As she makes her way to the couch exhausted from the day, caregiver burnout in the midst of COVID-19 is the simplest way Lisa Garner can express what she’s been feeling since February.
She provides support in her own home for Paul, a 62-year-old man living with developmental disabilities.
(Paul’s legal guardians have asked we not use his last name.)
As a result of the pandemic, the home-share caregiver says her role has become a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job. She says that’s because day programming outside the home for clients like Paul was cancelled for a period of time and while some regions have reinstated it, it isn’t for everyone due to COVID-19 safety requirements and physical distancing.
Garner is one of thousands of people across B.C. employed to live with and provide care for adults living with developmental disabilities. But Garner says she isn’t paid for the additional activities and hours she has to work, now that Paul is home 24/7.
“My client would leave from 8:30 in the morning to three in the afternoon. I’m now having to create a day program in those hours. I can’t do anything else,” Garner said.
And she says the extra work isn’t in her contract, so she isn’t being paid for it. Paul pays for his room and board, but she says additional costs like cleaning and activities are draining her pocket.
“He has meals with us. I’ve had Paul longer than I’ve had my son,” she said.
Selena Martin, the president of the B.C. Home Share Providers Association, says it’s the same story for many of the 600 caregivers her association represents.
Martin says the average home-share caregiver makes $1,500 to 1,700 a month and is provided additional funds to pay for their client’s room and board.
She says it’s not enough money to cover the additional work brought on by the longer hours and care related to the pandemic.
“We need to have respite homes and emergency beds available. We can’t find workers,” Martin said.
She says many relief workers who would typically sub in to give home-share caregivers a break are not doing the job anymore because of COVID.
‘I call him my brother’
As well as heading up the association, Martin is also a home-share caregiver for Sean Laughren who has lived with her for 13 years.
“I call him my brother from another mother. But we just need a break,” Martin said.
She says some members of the association did receive emergency pandemic funding from the provincial government by way of Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation that oversees home-share providers’ work.
For Garner, that meant an additional $1,200 a month from April to August to pay for extra costs incurred by 24-hour care, but the funding has stopped.
Martin says it needs to continue.
She says she has reached out to the province on behalf of the association and has been told concerns around additional pay for round-the-clock work, the need for relief workers and targeted mental health counselling for workers and clients will be addressed but she has yet to hear solutions.
Community Living B.C. referred all questions about funding to the Ministry of Finance, which said the government has provided $15 million in extra support funding for home-share caregivers through Community Living B.C. The ministry says government is working to identify ongoing support needs for families and care providers.
Martin says the promises are hardly reassuring. She says caregivers’ calls for help have been ignored for months.
“The people we provide support to are invisible, because they’re inside our homes. They’re not out in the public.”