Guest Column

Honor Caregivers’ Sacrifices

For too long home care jobs have been undervalued

By Donavon Hawk

Butte’s tradition of taking care of its own has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our public health department and council of commissioners have made us leaders in the state in protecting our citizens and now ensuring we all get vaccinated.

Despite this, our county suffered 86 COVID related deaths, many of which occurred in our larger shared living facilities. This has been particularly difficult as many of us struggle to keep seniors and the disabled in their homes as long as possible.

As the legal guardian of my disabled brother who lives with cerebral palsy in a group home with five others, this issue is a constant worry. I am deeply thankful for the in-home care providers that provide individualized compassionate care in a setting that keeps him here in Butte and closer to family.

Not everyone is so fortunate. We need to make sure there is a path that keeps our most vulnerable at home and away from large facilities. Investing in in-home care will fill good-paying professional jobs that provide disabled and elderly Montanans with the compassionate care they deserve.   

The demand for long-term care is outpacing the number of qualified workers. It’s estimated there will be 4.7 million home care jobs to fill in this country by 2028. In Butte 10% of our population is already over 65 and that number is growing. The challenge to provide in-home care will only increase. Meanwhile, it’s getting more expensive to live in Montana while wages for caregivers have stagnated. 

An effective strategy is at hand: The Better Care, Better Jobs (BCBJ) Act will make critical investments that expand in-home care to 2,000 Montanans for the first time, strengthen training for caregivers, and give them a voice on the job to negotiate for better wages and benefits. 

For too long home care jobs have been undervalued. In Montana, some 90% of caregivers are women and 15% of women of color. It’s long past time to honor their work with better pay, training and the resources they need to care for the clients they passionately serve. 

That’s why it’s so important for all members of Montana’s congressional delegation to co-sponsor this critically important piece of legislation. It’s rare to gain bipartisan agreement on anything in Washington, D.C. these days, but the recent agreement on a more narrow range of infrastructure shows that is possible. This should be the goal for everyone who represents Montana in our nation’s capitol. Now that we are adding another seat to our delegation, we must insure that those of us who advocate for the most vulnerable in our community are heard.

It will take all of us working together to fix the road that leads out of the pandemic and toward a better future. In-home caregivers have already answered the call. Let’s encourage our leaders to join them in stepping up for our seniors and disabled by backing the BCBJ Act.  

Donavon Hawk is a Democratic state representative from Butte.

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