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Grateful for work of home health aides

Cassandra Day / Hearst Connecticut Media Middletown firefighters from the downtown, Cross Street, South Fire District and Westfield stations held a truck parade “sneak attack” to thank the doctors, nurses and other emergency personnel at Middlesex Hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Cassandra Day / Hearst Connecticut Media
Middletown firefighters from the downtown, Cross Street, South Fire District and Westfield stations held a truck parade “sneak attack” to thank the doctors, nurses and other emergency personnel at Middlesex Hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Last year, I came up from Florida to visit my 85-year-old mother in Middletown and decided it was time to stay.

Mom had several strokes a number of years ago. Her right side is paralyzed and she suffers from dementia, which when I visited was getting worse. She kept saying how much she missed me.

So, I returned to be with Mom and to help my sister, who has primary responsibility for her care. I moved in with them.

In addition to having more time with my mother, I witnessed the extraordinary work of her personal care attendants. They are angels in disguise and the state needs to do more to support them in their work especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Friday, Sept. 4, is our town’s first ever Home Care day and our attendants deserve every bit of recognition like this — and a whole lot more.

My sister and I work full time and couldn’t possibly take care of Mom’s day-to-day needs without help. She can’t move on her own and needs assistance to get into her wheelchair, which I am unable to give her because of my own physical limitations.

So, for the last seven or eight years several dedicated personal care attendants have essentially joined our family to help Mom. They cook for her, sit with her, take her to the bathroom and tune in her favorite television shows. It’s tough work and very intimate. I know because I did similar work with people with developmental disabilities for a number of years in Florida.

As demanding as the personal care work is in good times, it became more complicated when the COVID-19 crisis reached Connecticut. The close, person-to-person contact required to care for my mother and the fear of spreading or contracting the virus created a new level of concern.

Nevertheless, Mom’s care didn’t stop. The attendants came without fail even though we all worried about exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, they were not provided with any personal protective equipment, masks, gloves or sanitizer. Our attendants work independently and are paid under the state’s Medicaid program through a nonprofit agency. You’d expect the state to make sure that the personal care attendants, who work with a vulnerable population, have access to the protective gear they need. It was only a couple months ago that a program was finally set up to deliver surgical masks and gloves to my mom for our attendants. And now we are hearing that these supplies will only be delivered when someone is COVID-positive.

For several months, my sister managed to find and purchase protective gear for us and for the attendants. It was critical to protect my mother and me as I have a heart condition. Of course, the attendants, who in some cases work other jobs, didn’t want to bring the virus into the house or be exposed if one of us had contracted it. I put a protocol into place. We took temperatures when people arrived and insisted on frequent hand washing and use of gloves. It worked very well.

Keeping up the supply of protective gear for personal care attendants for as long as we are working to rid Connecticut and the rest of the country of COVID-19 is imperative. We’re lucky that my sister was able to get us that protective equipment, but I can’t stop thinking about all those other people who aren’t able to give their attendants protective equipment. There is no room for complacency, no room for error. The state’s current success in reducing the spread of the virus cannot be confused with beating the virus.

I’d like the state to make sure all attendants have protective equipment and to arrange for COVID-19 testing of the state’s personal care attendants who don’t have the luxury of working from home or keeping “socially distant” from those they help. It would be great if the quick test kits that are being discussed nationally prove viable and are available in Connecticut.

We’ve been blessed to have such dedicated help with my mother. It’s hard to get people and the pay is low for the work they do, which I know from my experience. By now, the personal care attendants feel like family and come by even while they’re off duty on the holidays to help us celebrate. We need to do all we can to make sure that they are safe and have the equipment they need.

Andrea Carlone lives in Middletown.

Op-Ed from the Middletown Press

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