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‘Care’: A Difficult Documentary

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Care isn’t a horror film, but it’s certainly frightening.

The new documentary from director Deirdre Fishel explores the plight of impoverished, emotionally drained care workers and those who rely on them for their most basic needs. This is not an enjoyable film, but it is important.

Vilma and Dee in a scene from 'Care'
Vilma and Dee in a scene from ‘Care’

“From the time we are born we start aging, and even though we don’t want to think about it, all of us are growing older,” says Age of Dignity author Ai-jen Poo, who helps to narrate the hour-long film. “We used to count on family members to care for us, and that is no longer always possible. We are increasingly relying on paid caregivers to do that work.”

The documentary begins by entering the Staten Island apartment of 92-year-old Dee, who never married and has no children. Her closest relative: a niece on the West Coast.

Dee has come to rely on Vilma, a middle-aged Costa Rican immigrant in need of a Green Card. Vilma earns just a few thousand dollars each month, but Dee would be dead without her support. She bathes Dee, treats her bed sores, feeds her and even prays over her before bed. Hers is not a glamorous career.

“When I started working for Dee, I found her on the floor, totally naked,” Vilma says. “In the beginning, she wanted only a few hours care, and then she fell down.”

Dee was a feminist at the dawn of the movement, and she lived most of her life independently. Unfortunately, cancer and dementia have left her physically weak and mentally impaired.

“It was really frightening to see this bright, independent woman not being able to do the basic things,” says Jill, her niece. “It was very difficult for her to finally retire at age 90, but she wanted to stay in New York, she wanted to stay in her apartment.”

Although 90 percent of Americans want to age – and die – at home, doing so has become increasingly difficult and expensive. Not enough people are willing to work 24/7 for less than $10 an hour with no benefits.

“We’re looking at a work force and an entire industry that has not been recognized as a real work force, people don’t even recognize it as a real job oftentimes, and our labor laws have excluded this workforce time and time again,” Poo says.

The median income of a home care aide: $13,000 a year.

The few families able to afford a full-time caregiver – or convince Medicare to shoulder some of the costs – are often left in poverty, having spent their life’s savings.

Some homes and apartments in Care are so disheveled and crowded, the scenes make viewers wonder whether moving into a nursing home is a step-up for some of these patients. Fishel disagrees.

“I think if you asked all the people who we followed, at the end of the day, they would probably say that they are very happy to be at home,” Fishel told Life Matters Media. “Staying at home is not for everybody. For some people, it would be very isolating. For others, home is the one thing they have left when they lose everything else.”

The U.S. has a massive baby boomer population that will soon require millions more caregivers, but the issue was not addressed during the 2016 Presidential election. Our President-elect and new members of Congress should watch this film – and come up with some solutions.

“It’s crazy that it’s not talked about during this election,” Fishel said. “It’s an absent crisis that is lurking.”