They are the unlikeliest of superheroes. Some are in their 60s. Most were born on faraway islands – Puerto Rico, Cape Verde, Haiti, Guatemala, the Azores – and they learned to speak English when they arrived here. One is a cancer survivor. Most have grandchildren. Many have a strong faith that gets them through each day.
They are the housekeepers of Aldersbridge Communities. They are the first line of defense against the coronavirus, and they represent the best chance we all have of keeping it at bay. You won’t see them wearing superhero costumes or capes. They cannot fly or see through walls. But make no mistake, these people do possess a superpower, and theirs is love.
Our housekeepers love their job, and they love our residents. When they do their job well, their work is unnoticed. They keep the place clean and they keep the rest of us safe. They are often underappreciated and always underpaid, like most people who work with elders in a nonprofit setting such as ours. Although they have the same fear and anxiety that everyone shares these days, these superheroes wouldn’t think of abandoning their residents in a time of need. What fuels them is respect. That’s all they want in return for the job they do. They want the respect of fellow staff members, residents and families. They’ve always had mine.
Our society in the United States has never revered older adults. Our government policies are ageist. When the state and federal budgets needs to be balanced, they always include cuts to elder care services. Meals on Wheels, nursing home funding, and anything else that is designed to help sustain elders is slashed year after year. When elder care funding is cut, wages and benefits are the casualties. The state currently provides less than $10 an hour to a nursing home to care for a frail elder. In assisted living, it’s less than $3 an hour. The state budget may be balanced, bur society’s values are tragically imbalanced. Teenage babysitters and paperboys earn more.
It is my sincere hope that when we come out on the other side of this pandemic, people come to recognize the true value of those who served honorably on the front lines of this war against an invisible enemy. I know there won’t be parades, statues, or medals. But that’s not what any of the superheroes want. They just want our respect. I think they’ve earned it.
Richard Gamache, CEO
Winslow Gardens Assisted and Independent Living
Linn Health & Rehabilitation
Arbor Hill Assisted Living
St. Germain Assisted Living