by: Ami S. Hyten and Nikki Hutchinson

In a time when aging and disabled people living in institutions of all types are clearly in danger from COVID infection and death, community-based services offer a safe alternative.

In the community, aging and disabled people are better able to say who comes in their homes. Aging and disabled people who need services that involve close personal contact can insist that the people providing those services use personal protective equipment. Aging and disabled people can use services that reduce their and their workers’ need to go into risky settings.

Key to community-based services are our direct support workers. One worker shared her perspective on working in the time of COVID:“Hi my name is Nikki and I just want to talk a little bit about dealing with the coronavirus as a home health aide. You try so very hard to make sure you’re safe in your day-to-day life and not to bring it back to the clients you’re caring for.

What I do to try and stay safe is scary and funny but my day-to-day if I have to go to the store I suit up in a white jumpsuit with dishwashing gloves taped around my wrist and a mask and rain boots. I look freaking ridiculous but I have to make sure that I stay safe for my clients and my family.

I have a grandbaby who has a weak immune system so I try very hard not to try to bring her back anything and I have an awesome client who’s dealing with health issues herself so I try to make sure she’s safe. You can imagine the stares I get when I go to the grocery store but it’s worth keeping everybody safe until we find a way to get back to a new normal.”

a blonde woman in a wheelchair holding a sign that says “ACA+HCBS = Life & Liberty 4 Disabled & Aging #COVIDJusticeFirst”. To the right stands a black womanCongress has given nursing facilities billions of dollars to respond to COVID. No funds for Home and Community Based Services have been provided. This means workers like Nikki have taken on the additional tasks associated with keeping herself, her employing consumer, and her family safe without any extra pay. Personal protective equipment has been difficult to get ahold of for community-based workers, leaving people to fend for themselves with dishwashing gloves, and home-made masks.

Aging and Disabled people should not have been an afterthought, or left to die in institutions in the time of COVID. Great workers like Nikki keep us safe and living in the community. Our community needs to do a better job of helping workers like Nikki keep themselves safe with personal protective equipment, and honor the work she does by paying her well and offering benefits.