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Female Caregivers On Frontlines Of The Coronavirus Fight In Arizona

Published: Monday, April 13, 2020 - 3:43pm
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 11:49am

Women make up the majority of direct care workers. Direct care workers help older adults and people with disabilities bathe, eat and dress themselves.

The work can be difficult, the pay is at or near minimum wage, yet they’re essential to keeping our older adults safe during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Being a woman in the direct care industry can be risky these days.

"These workers are really asked to lay their lives on the line on behalf of their clients across all settings from home care to nursing homes," said Stephen Campbell, the data and policy analyst at PHI, a nonprofit research group that studies the direct care workforce.  

According to Campbell, the direct care workforce nationwide is typically made up of women and many are older and people of color.

Arizona is no different.

"There's a large proportion who are immigrants in Arizona. And also this is an aging workforce — about a quarter are aged 55 and older." said Campbell.

Who also may have little income and suffer chronic health conditions. Which could make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"We also know that according to one estimate, close to 380,000 workers may contract this disease over the course of the pandemic."

Again that’s nationwide. Still, if a direct care worker does contract COVID-19, she’s going to need time off. The challenge then is finding a qualified replacement. Even before the pandemic, the industry was facing a shortage of direct care workers.

"And this raises a pressing question: How are we going to ensure quality consistent care for the people who need it most when the workforce is needing to take time off themselves to tend to their own, either personal or familial needs?" Campbell said.

Karen Barno is the CEO at Arizona Assisted Living Federation of America. Her organization represents nearly 60% of the assisted living centers in the state.

"We have asked the Governor's office and the Department of Health Services to give us a waiver," she said. "In assisted living, we have assistant caregivers. Assisted caregivers cannot work alone."

So they work alongside a certified caregiver. But if they get that waiver, that could give assisted living facilities around the state flexibility and an expanded workforce in an instant, albeit temporarily. 

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