Coastal Post Online


November 2001

Senior Care Crisis In West Marin

Who Cares About the Caregivers?

With all due respect to seniors on fixed incomes, as a community we must recognize the survival issues of our caregivers who incur as many, and more, cost of living increases as the seniors. Is it fair to hold down the hourly rate of caregivers so that the clients can leave expensive homes to their children? Or to West Marin Senior Services? There are no advocates for caregivers, no unions, no alliances. Caregivers are the backbone of these referral agencies and the amount of money made by these agencies goes up and up. Caregivers have been held at the same hourly rates of $12-$15/hour for over 10 years. At that level of income, self-employment is more of a disadvantage than anything else. No benefits, no unemployment, no job security. Your client passes away and you are out on the street scrambling for another job.

It appears that it is in the better interest of West Marin Senior Services to exploit and control caregivers. How about putting a face on these caregivers and profiling their survival issues.

The coordinators of West Marin Senior Services should be subject to term limits. After 10 to 15 years, they hold entirely too much power in these small neighborhoods. Everyone is beholding to them, be it for a job or for some care, they unquestionably do play favorites and also get lots of personal favors for themselves. Making $25/hour a flat 20 hours per week, the time is put in at their convenience. That is $500 per week. It is really difficult for caregivers to make $500 per week.

How about West Marin Senior Services helping our resident caregivers access some group health insurance? This is a wealthy organization with funds for repairing the houses of seniors. They are doing nothing for the caregivers. If our resident caregivers are forced to go to Sausalito and Tiburon for a decent hourly rate, while the coordinators in West Marin bring in people from other counties and other countries to work for less, is that what we really want? To alienate the quality caregivers in our own communities? Those of us who have become certified nurses aides and make an effort to be professional are continually undermined by this system, which places no particular value on training and experience as compared to a lay person with a little extra time on their hands.

All caregivers should be aware that the Home Care Consortium holds a secret black list of what they call "checked" workers. These people are barred from employment referrals. The public is not privy to this black list. A caregiver can be black listed without their knowledge and without an opportunity to defend themselves. A caller with a complaint to Adult Protective Services is guaranteed anonymity -- anything can be said about a caregiver and can go directly on the caregiver's record. They are supposed to do some checking into accusations, but corner cutting goes on and they do not. The caregiver may never know.

This borders on slanderous inflammation of character. I have heard coordinators evaluate the caregivers in an opinionated, gossipy context that is extraordinarily inappropriate. They are not qualified to do character analysis and are far from all that clean themselves.

Caregivers are sorely in need of the ability to stand up for themselves and demand cost of living increases. They must have the ability to determine their own worth, rather than those who are making money from their referrals. Caregivers need a union so that they are not in fear of losing work for taking a stand. This exploitation has gone too far. As a community, do we really think that the cleaning lady is worth a higher hourly rate than those caring for our elderly?

Here is the reason we have a problem attracting and retaining quality people to work in home care. If we have no consideration for the people who are doing this work, the problem will only grow. The answer is with the caregivers, not with West Marin Senior Services.



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