While the pandemic forced many industries to a screeching halt, in-home care providers like Joy Vegar and Renee Booker never stopped.
“When they were telling everybody to stay home, we didn’t have that option,” said Vegar. “I had shopping to do for three different clients, so I was in stores several days a week.”
Vegar said in-home care workers put their lives on the line to continue serving their disabled and elderly clients — administering medication, providing meals, facilitating transportation, even providing homemade face masks when there was a shortage of personal protective equipment. Now, Vegar, Booker and their union — Service Employees International Union Local 503 — are fighting to bring more attention, and benefits, to in-home care workers who often go unnoticed.
“We want to lift them up and acknowledge them,” said Booker.
Vegar and Booker hosted two visibility events on Saturday in Gold Beach and Coos Bay to highlight SEIU’s current negotiations with the state to raise wages, protect hours and change state rules to make it easier for personal care workers to serve their customers.
They said in-home care workers are especially important in rural areas, including much of the South Coast, where there is less access to hospitals, doctors and nursing homes, as they are able to fill potential gaps in care.
Although in-home care isn’t always a direct replacement for nursing homes, Vegar and Booker said there are obvious benefits for some individuals who may not need around the clock care, especially for disabled and elderly couples.
“Several times in my career I have had husband and wife clients, and they got to stay in their homes together because if they go into a nursing home, a lot of times they are split up,” said Vegar.
Despite the inherent risks associated with being in someone else's home during the pandemic, Booker said the state has mostly ignored SEIU’s calls for hazard pay.
“They’re dragging their feet,” said Booker.
However, there is movement in negotiations on other fronts, Booker said. Additionally, SEIU will host a town hall with Senator Ron Wyden on June 28 to further negotiations.