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Home Health Aides Care For The Elderly, ‘But Who Will Care For Them?’ One Of The Fastest-Growing Jobs In America ‘Is Also One Of The Hardest’

Published Friday, August 23, 2019
by Alexia Fernández Campbell/Vox
Home Health Aides Care For The Elderly, ‘But Who Will Care For Them?’ One Of The Fastest-Growing Jobs In America ‘Is Also One Of The Hardest’

(ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO) - When the alarm clock went off at 7 a.m., Angelica Rios had barely gotten four hours of sleep.

She rolled out of bed anyway and slipped into her Winnie the Pooh scrubs.

“I have a lot of trouble sleeping,” Angelica said as she combed mousse through her thick brown curls.

She picked up two silver hoop earrings and clasped one onto each ear.

Then she laced up her sneakers and grabbed a bottle of Gatorade on her way out the door.

Angelica has a lot to keep her awake at night.

As a 25-year-old single mom, she worries about how she will afford day care when her 4-year-old son, Elijah, returns from spending the Summer with his father.

She worries about coming up with $680 to cover the rent for her two-bedroom apartment in Albuquerque if her car breaks down again.

She worries about how she will pay back the $150 cash advance she took out from her employer to pay July’s bills.

“I really need to get a second job,” Angelica said.

She recently interviewed for a position working the assembly line at a factory, making pre-paid phone cards, but hasn’t heard back.

“It’s a struggle, but when is it not?  Life’s always a struggle if you’re a single mom,” she said.

Angelica already works seven days a week as a Home Health Aide, caring for an 89-year-old widow with dementia who lives alone.

The $12.50 an hour Angelica earns isn’t enough, so she and her son rely on Government Assistance, such as Food Stamps and Medicaid.

On a recent morning, Angelica drove her 2002 Ford Taurus (it has “stage four cancer,” she joked) along the dry, dusty foothills of the Sandia mountain range.

The sun was still hiding behind the granite peaks, but the temperature was climbing to 90 degrees.

She drove past auto body shops, an elementary school and a go-kart track.

Fifteen minutes later, Angelica turned right into a neighborhood of tidy beige houses with two-car garages - a world apart from the cramped rowhouse where she grew up in Philadelphia.

Then she pulled into the driveway of a house with a red-tiled roof.

Her client, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons, stood waiting at the door to her garage, clutching a walker.

She was tall and slender with sharp blue eyes, still wearing her pajamas and bathrobe when Angelica arrived.

“Has Sparky gone out to pee?” Angelica asked, referring to the widow’s 7-year-old terrier.

Her client shook her head.

Angelica walked inside and opened the back door to let Sparky out.

Dishes were piled up in the sink.

The bed was unmade.

The refrigerator was nearly empty.

Angelica mostly likes her job, despite the low wages - even though she never gets a day off.

Her current client is far less difficult than others she’s had.

Her last client masturbated in front of her (she quit), and the person before him soiled herself constantly, leaving Angelica to clean up (that client later died).

“How’s your throat?  Do you want me to make you a cup of tea?,” Angelica asked cheerfully as she scrubbed a pot in the sink.

“Yes, please,” the woman answered, sitting down.

Her client was in a good mood, but that wouldn’t last long.

Later, she would get cranky and yell at Angelica for not following her orders, like failing to get two visiting journalists to leave before lunchtime.

But none of it ever seemed to faze Angelica.

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