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 Milta Ayala, a Certified Nursing Assistant and Home Health Aide at HomeCare Options in Totowa, NJ. She has been a direct care worker for 18 years.
ON WHY SHE DECIDED TO BECOME A HOME HEALTH AIDE
“Before I became a CNA, I was working in a factory but was very unhappy. So I decided to become certified and now work as a home health aide. I have been doing this work for 18 years. I am so much happier now because I get to help people. To be successful in this job, you need to have a good heart and feel love and respect for others. I just try to do the best I can for my clients each day.”
ON HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER CLIENTS
“Once I meet a client, it feels like I’ve already known them for a long time. They are happy to see me when I arrive and are waiting to say ‘good morning’ and have a conversation. That makes me happy, too. But sometimes they are lonely and sometimes they cry in front of me. One client who has Alzheimer’s gets frustrated very easily. But I always put myself in their position so I can care for them with compassion and love, and we can work together.
When your clients get really sick, it is so hard. It can seem very sudden, that one day they are healthy and then the next they are carrying themselves differently. You think that you can do more, but you can’t if it is their time. It makes me so sad when a client passes away, but that is part of the work, too.”
ON HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS IMPACTED HER WORK
“When the pandemic started, HomeCare Options provided us with all the gloves, masks, and gowns we needed to stay safe at work. They were communicating regularly with aides and did a good job helping us protect ourselves and our clients. My clients are older adults and many of their families stopped services because they didn’t want to take the chance of having anyone bring the virus into the home. But I still called them almost every day to ask how they were doing.
I was unemployed for three months, which was very hard on my family. I was home and not working, but I also could not even see my own kids who usually visit me often. Now I am very glad to be back working. Wearing a mask and gloves all day and taking all the precautions is challenging sometimes, but we have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our clients.”
Photography: Kristen Blush
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.