Pandemic Upends the Lives of People with Disabilities
By Vicki Leeper
If you used in home personal caregivers, you may have faced losing some of the workers you depend on – to dress, shower, eat and use the bathroom. Many caregivers had to return to home during the quarantine. Or perhaps you were afraid of a caregiver coming and going when masks were hard to come by. COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to people with disabilities. And workers providing in-home care and services are at a greater risk of contracting the virus and bringing it into their homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected nearly 5300 people in the state of Idaho. This has exposed vulnerabilities in our state programs that are designed to serve people with disabilities. There was already a shortage of caregivers before the pandemic, the in home care workers are typically paid about $11 in Idaho. Clients and their caregivers must weigh how to keep each other safe during close interactions, some caregivers have stuck around, others have quit. And that means those clients that lose their caregivers also lose their independence.
Here’s an idea of how the crisis has transformed life in unique ways for people with disabilities. Ideally a client would have between 6 or 7 caregivers available to fill work shifts. During the in home worker shortage, if a in home care assistant doesn’t show and there isn’t a replacement, a client living alone may have had to skip meals, go without using the restroom or sleep in their wheelchair. If there is long lasting on the workforce, these independent people will have to move home or to an institution.
Moving back home might mean going to sleep when your parents do – lest you be left with no one to lift you into bed. Or living with their music, television and food preferences. But without going home to parents, you may face life in a nursing home, which currently accounts for 60% of COVID deaths in Idaho. Personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and disinfecting wipes are still hard to come by. And as the pandemic continues, uncertainty make living indecently even worse. How long are we going to have to navigate this? Agreed that we need to get the economy going, but safety has to be first.
Mask wearing in public is a proven way to reduce the transmission of the virus. And now anti-mask protesters are trying to commandeer the ADA laws to get into stores without face coverings. These cards are not real. And furthermore, their use complicates life for people with disabilities that truly are prevented from wearing them. It makes it more difficult when people with disabilities are actually fighting for their rights to be respected.
We need to join together to advocate for better pay and safety solutions for in-home caregivers. By working together we can get through this pandemic.