Through interviews and original photography, PHI is working with direct care workers nationwide to document their stories and share their ideas for transforming jobs in long-term care. This interview is with Janet Folsom, a Home Health Aide, Certified Nursing Assistant, and Peer Mentor at Knute Nelson in Alexandria, Minnesota. She has been a direct care worker for 5 years.
ON WHY SHE DECIDED TO BECOME A HOME HEALTH AIDE
“I decided to go back to school to become a CNA at the age of 50 and am going on five years as a home health aide. Before that, I worked at a day care for 20 years and then spent a little time working at a high school. Direct care work was always something that I wanted to do in my younger years—to work with older people and take care of people that needed help. Even though I took a big pay cut, I absolutely love my job. I know I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I am helping, and that means a lot to me.”
ON HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER CLIENTS
“I’ve created quite a bond with each and every one of my clients. We talk, I listen to them, and I pay attention to their wants and needs so they feel safe and can trust me. When I can walk into a home and make somebody happy, that means more to me than anything. And I can usually take a person who is pretty down in the dumps and end up having them smile and laugh. So it can be a very rewarding job.”
ON WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED IN HER JOB
“Caregiving in general is a lovely thing. You need to be a person who has patience and a kind, caring heart. I always think: how would I want to be approached? Or: how would I want somebody approaching my parents or my loved ones? And you need to understand that being a home health aide is work. It’s a challenging job, both physically and mentally.”
“Caregiving in general is a lovely thing. You need to be a person who has patience and a kind, caring heart.”
ON TAKING ON AN ADVANCED ROLE IN HOME CARE
“As a peer mentor, I train new home health aides and make myself available to support a group of five aides. They can come to me with any questions or concerns they have, or to simply talk about their day. When the position was posted, I was encouraged to apply by my coworkers. I felt very honored knowing that they see me as a role model and proudly accepted. I really enjoy connecting with new staff. In my role, I help them feel comfortable and confident when they go out into the field on their own, and I get to share some of my experiences with them.”
ON THE IMPACT OF COVID-19
“Since the start of the coronavirus, my job is more mentally and physically draining than before. Knute Nelson continuously informs us of guidelines from the health department on how to stay safe, and we have access to all the protective gear we need. So we’ve been very fortunate. But it’s really hard for everyone. My clients are scared, and they’re getting depressed and lonely. I try and switch off the news if they’ve been watching 24/7 and to pick them back up and get them to a better mental place, which can be emotionally draining. Working in the field, we are exposing ourselves to so much risk. We are wearing masks 99.9 percent of our day. We’re sanitizing equipment and taking so many precautions. I just wish we had more acknowledgement, or some kind of extra incentive, to help keep us going on the really tough days so we know we’re not forgotten.”
The Direct Care Worker Story Project aims to enhance the visibility of this workforce, amplify its voices, and draw on workers’ unique wisdom to inform policy and practice. The Project seeks to address the lack of representation of direct care workers in public narratives and ensure images used to depict long-term care work are grounded in workers’ and clients’ real experiences. If you’re interested in sharing your story as a direct care worker, please email us at info@PHInational.org.