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Overlooked, undervalued: Cornell research seeks to elevate home care workers

Overlooked, undervalued: Cornell research seeks to elevate home care workers

Unseen contributions

For Yanick’s first appointment with Sterling, Marie came along.

“Marie slipped into the room, carrying both of their jackets, a bag of medications, hospital discharge papers and a notepad,” Sterling and colleagues wrote in a paper guiding clinicians on how to involve home care workers in their patients’ care. “She hurriedly took out a pen and asked, ‘What did I miss?’”

“What struck me the most was how involved and passionate she was about delivering high-quality care to my patient,” Sterling says. “It was really through interactions in the office where I saw just how much she was observing in the home.”

Marie cooks Yanick three healthful meals per day, makes sure she has eaten before taking her daily 20 pills, and does Yanick’s physical therapy with her.

“She knew when symptoms changed. She also knew when medications were not helping, or when it was time to go seek care,” Sterling says.

That prompted the Cornell team to launch a series of studies defining the unseen contributions of home care workers, establishing evidence of their value and revealing the lack of equity this workforce experiences, Sterling says.

One of their recent studies, which they conducted through Cornell’s Survey Research Institute, suggests home care workers assist with a far wider scope of care than previously documented. Nearly 74% of New Yorkers surveyed said their caregivers provide medical care and/or emotional support. Those patients were twice as likely to view their caregivers as “very important” compared with those who received only personal care.

When Marie sees Yanick become introverted and sad, she takes action. Yanick frequently get depressed by her physical limitations; until about 10 years ago, she lived an active life. She worked in Brooklyn hospitals as a health care worker and raised three children after emigrating from Haiti at age 16.

“I tell her, ‘We don’t have time for depressed. Let’s take a walk outside,’” Marie says. Sometimes she has Yanick sit on the walker and rolls her outside as if she’s in a wheelchair – that always makes Yanick laugh. “That’s what I want to see,” says Marie, 45, who was also born in Haiti and emigrated to the U.S. at age 23.