When the province announced pandemic pay for front-line health and social services workers in mid-May, Selena Martin was disappointed to see that her role as a home-share caregiver wouldn’t be included among those receiving the top-up.
Home-share caregivers welcome adults with developmental disabilities into their homes and support their needs, ranging from people who have jobs but can’t live independently to people who require round-the-clock assistance with feeding, bathing and other basic needs.
Martin said it’s unfair that home-share caregivers are not receiving the extra lump-sum payment, which the province has said amounts to about $4 per hour over a 16-week period starting March 15, despite the immense pressures the virus response has placed on them.
COVID-19 has shut down supports outside of the house and has put Martin and her husband into strict self-isolation to protect the individual she supports, a man in his 50s who requires 24-hour help. Martin doesn’t want to identify the man to protect his privacy.
“I no longer leave my job. I’m living it 24-7. That’s really hard,” she said.
Most individuals in home share have day workers who take them out during the week and support them in the community. With COVID-19, that support has stopped, and home-share caregivers are picking up the extra hours.
The man Martin supports would normally spend 30 hours per week with a day worker and every other weekend out of the house being cared for by someone else, but none of that is happening because of COVID-19 concerns.
Average monthly support payments for home-share caregivers are between $1,200 and $1,400, said Martin, who is head of the B.C. Home Share Caregivers Association, an organization she launched to advocate for the needs of others in her role.
They also receive some funding for their clients’ room and board, but Martin said with the number of hours home-share caregivers work, the average person is earning about $2.60 per hour.
“All we want to be is treated fairly,” she said.
Martin said she hasn’t had a weekend off since March 15, which she spent looking after her elderly parents. Before that, she had been working non-stop since early February, when the man she cares for went into hospital.
“He was so critical when [the pandemic hit], the doctor said: ‘You guys have to self-isolate, because if he catches it, he’ll probably die,’ ” she said.
That meant both Martin, who works part-time as a community inclusion worker, and her husband, who works for Canada Post, stopped working outside of the house for fear of bringing the virus home. They both applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit while unable to work their other jobs.
The province’s pandemic pay will go to more than 250,000 eligible public-sector workers in hospitals, provincially funded home and community services, group homes and correctional facilities, among others.
Home-share caregivers work through agencies contracted by Community Living B.C., a Crown corporation that supports people with developmental disabilities, which means they are not public-sector employees.
Martin got into home-share caregiving after working in group homes and running day programs.
“I just felt that I could do so much more supporting somebody in my home than in a group home,” she said.
Martin has cared for the same man for 13 years in her Saanich home. She considers him family and he joins her and her husband on family trips.
“He calls my parents Mom and Dad,” she said.
Still, caring for him 24 hours a day is challenging work, and she’s feeling worn out. Martin said she knows other home-share caregivers are reaching a breaking point due to the stress of working non-stop.
Home-share caregivers are expected to receive a boost in funding through the province’s $5-billion COVID-19 Action Plan, with up to $35.6 million earmarked for Community Living B.C. to support group homes, supported independent living and home sharing.
Martin said there are about 4,000 home-share caregivers in the province, providing support to about 4,700 people.
She estimates the funding will amount to an increase of about $1.60 per hour based on a 24/7 working schedule, which is what she and the majority of home-share caregivers are doing during the pandemic. The man she supports cannot be left on his own.
“He, of course, sleeps in his room, but we do bedroom checks,” she said.
Martin says she’s frustrated by a chronic lack of funding for home-share caregivers, who care for thousands of people who would otherwise live in group homes.
“What started as a movement to offer people better lives has now shifted to how can we house people for as little money as possible. Unfortunately, this also demonstrates how society still does not value people we love and support,” Martin said.
Caroline Mavridis, who cares for a 30-year-old man with a developmental disability and her 26-year-old identical-twin sons, Neil and Scott Mavridis, who have Down syndrome and autism, shares Martin’s frustration.
“Financially, it would be nice to be compensated for all the hours I do put in. I don’t feel supported,” she said.
Mavridis said people seem to have trouble understanding that while she enjoys her work, it’s still challenging and can be emotionally draining.
“I’m still working. I’m still on 24/7. I’m not able to go anywhere. If I want to go out on my own, I have to find support to have them looked after, because they can’t be left on their own,” she said.
Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said in a statement that B.C.’s approach to pandemic pay matches initiatives in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
Simpson said the province has recognized the importance of the work done by home-share caregivers and the additional responsibilities they’re taking on during the pandemic by providing millions in emergency funding to Community Living B.C.
The province also announced $45 million in funding over three years for home-share caregivers, which was intended to give them a 15 per cent boost in monthly support payments.
“As COVID-19 evolves, so, too, will B.C.’s response to it, and we will continue to look for ways to support people in our province to stay healthy and safe as we emerge from the pandemic, together.”