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Senate Staff Shadows Home Care Worker

June 6, 2013

On June 5, staff of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Care and Aging, which is chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), visited home care client Irene White, an 85-year-old Washington, D.C. resident with Alzheimer’s disease, and her husband of 45 years, Robert.

The Subcommittee staff — Sophie Kasimow, Erica Solway, and Bill Gendell — made the visit in order to see Older Americans Act (OAA) programs in action; the Subcommittee is leading efforts to reauthorize the Act this year. Mrs. and Mr. White benefit from OAA programs in multiple ways.

Through OAA Title III and D.C. Office on Aging funding, Mrs. White receives personal care and housekeeping from Joyce Colbert, a home care worker employed by Home Care Partners, a nonprofit home care agency based in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Colbert started her work as a home care aide after many years working in financial services and real estate. Because she is over 55 years old, she was able to receive home care training through a grant from the D.C. Office on Aging Older Workers Training Fund (funded through Title V of the OAA). She refers to her work as a “calling” and a “gift from God.”

For four hours three days per week, Ms. Colbert provides Mrs. White assistance with bathing, eating, dressing, and housekeeping. Due to her illness, Mrs. White has difficulty with communication. However, with patience and persistence, Ms. Colbert has gained her trust.

“They get along like best friends…like sisters,” says Mr. White, who like his wife retired from public service with the U.S. Census Bureau, where, in the early 1950s, Mrs. White participated in the “dawn of the computer age.”

With the help of Ms. Colbert and her husband, Mrs. White is able to maintain her dignity and live in her home. After a recent hospitalization, Ms. Colbert worked with Mrs. White to regain her strength and ability to stand.

With the exception of the 12 hours of care per week provided by Ms. Colbert, Mr. White is the sole caregiver for his wife. To support him in this role, Mr. White participates in Home Care Partners’ caregiver support program funded through OAA Title IIIE. Through the program, a caregiver educator provides him with support and he is reimbursed for some supplies he uses for caregiving.

Reauthorization of the OAA will be important for the future of these programs for older Americans across the country. The reauthorization bill (pdf), introduced on May 23 by Sen. Sanders, also incorporates provisions from previous legislation (pdf) to test advanced roles for aides.

— by Gail MacInnes, PHI National Policy Analyst

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