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We all interact with those who were called to care for their community. These giving, often passionate people provide health and personal care services for elderly parents and grandparents. They provide health, education and vocational services for our loved ones with special needs. They provide childcare and educational services for our children. They work in our schools and after school programs, our homes, halfway homes, nursing homes, shelters and in health and human service agencies. It is my experience that these caring individuals provide the safety net for the rest of us to continue showing up for work and feel content that the most vulnerable members of our communities are well cared for, feel loved, and enjoy a quality of life in our absence.

There are more than four million Americans working in low wage health and education “helping” professions. In Vermont alone, these positions account for approximately 10% of our working population. These same people who care for our communities often don’t have health insurance. They may not be able to access the very same health care they work so hard to provide for us. They often don’t earn a livable wage which means while they are caring for our children, they are wondering how they’ll feed their own children or make the needed repairs to their cars to get to work. They often feel the stress of working with huge caseloads of patients or clients, so while they are working with one person’s parent, they are worrying about the health and welfare of the client they saw hours before.

We all know there is huge turnover in the helping professions. These jobs are physically demanding and emotionally draining and if they don’t even pay the bills, it is understandable that care providers leave their chosen profession to earn a higher wage working at the corner store. This turnover rate impacts the health and human service system as it increases the strain on advertising and training budgets and most importantly disrupts care for our most vulnerable populations.

If we want to truly express our gratitude and appreciation for those who care for us, our families, our friends and neighbors with more than kind words of thanks – let’s stand together and give them the respect they deserve. Respect that will in turn also protect the integrity of our very important system of humane care by providing workers a livable wage, health insurance and reasonable caseloads for Certified Nursing Assistants, Personal Care Assistants, Licensed Nursing Assistants, Home Care Providers and Childcare Providers, Counselors and Case Workers. Talk with your legislators, talk with your local human service agency leaders and talk with your care provider about what they need to succeed in their role as a helper. Together we can start by investing in our strengths.

Protect those who care for the most vulnerable members of our communities!