I have cerebral palsy. There are many different types of CP, but what I have known as Spasic Diplegia – it’s common to about 80 per cent of people with CP.
I rely on someone to help me with my daily living needs, meal prep, and range of motion stretching, which is imperative for everyone, disabled or not, but especially those with conditions causing muscle tightness and mobility issues.
People like me and many others depend on home care workers every day. They are the unseen angels that allow vulnerable people like seniors and disabled people to stay in their own homes and enjoy the best standard of life possible.
Many of them don’t make a living wage and don’t have paid sick days.
A big challenge for care workers is that, because they’re underpaid and aren’t eligible for paid sick time benefits, when a caregiver gets sick, they are expected to take time off work. In an ideal world, they would, but who pays their bills on days they don’t get paid?
So, if an essential worker without paid sick time has a cold or are starting a cold and their client is immunocompromised, it’s a big risk. For someone with a lower immune system like me, a cold can turn into pneumonia overnight. These essential workers are forced to decide whether they can eat or make rent, or to put their unwitting clients at risk. It’s a deeply unfair, inequitable system.
Green Party leader David Coon presented a bill in the Legislative Assembly known as Bill C-27 in which the bill requested 10 paid sick days a year for essential workers. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass in the Legislative Assembly, and the status quo is still a major issue for vulnerable populations.
What happens when an immune-compromised person runs into the common cold
What happened to me was probably inevitable, given this system that forces low-waged people to work while sick.
In part because of my immune-compromised status, a complication of my CP, I recently got sick; this is my first illness since the pandemic. I woke up on a Thursday morning struggling to breathe. After getting up and still not improving I immediately went to the hospital. While there they discovered my oxygen was at 94, I had a high fever of 102 degrees.
As a child, I was on puffers for asthma, but it had improved with age. Due to my illness, my asthma had relapsed. I had an X-ray to rule out pneumonia, I was given a prescription for one antibiotic and three puffers to help my breathing and keep me alive.
I am doing better, now. But I am most certainly not well. I remain an increased fall risk, weak and tired most of the time, not back to normal activities such as range of motion stretches which I do to maintain my mobility. My muscle spasms are worse than usual – and they’re usually not good, but manageable. I have taken more time off work to rest.
The status quo for home care, both for workers and clients, is a constant crisis
The cost of living has drastically increased recently. In April, the province announced that home support workers’ wages would increase by up to $2.50, reaching about $20 per hour. But according to the Human Development Council in Saint John, a livable wage already exceeded $20 per hour in most New Brunswick cities by 2022. For example, the living wage in Fredericton was $23.45 per hour.
The NB Coalition for Pay Equity has said that personal support workers should earn somewhere around $25 per hour.
I am urging the New Brunswick government to do better. Many NBers are already in deep poverty or just under the poverty line. This is deeply concerning to me as a member of a vulnerable population, which includes disabled people and many older folks in the province.
Everyone chooses different career paths and some people are unable to work due to a disability, chronic condition or mental illness.
No one, disabled or not, should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or how they’re going to pay for medical expenses such as a wheelchair. We need disabled people to feel included in their community and living independent lives. We’re short on money, doctors, and the middle of a recession isn’t the time to be complacent: it’s the time to act.
Cutting social programming to “balance the budget” is not the answer; together, people with disabilities and seniors make up over 50 per cent of the population. When our needs are met, we will live in a more inclusive society.
I am being watched closely by my team of doctors and caregivers, and this illness has cost me a lot of money to manage. I live on a fixed income and it’s extremely difficult. I would like to take a moment to thank the nurses and doctors. My workplace has been accommodating with my work schedule. Friends and family continue to support me while I recover.
But I live in fear of the next time I’m exposed to someone with a cold, in any context, and next time, I might not be so “lucky.”
Kaitlyn Layden is a disability rights advocate in New Brunswick.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included out-of-date information about the wages of home care workers. It also incorrectly stated that Bill C-27 was introduced in the House of Commons; in fact, the bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly. The article was updated with the correct information at approximately 3:15 p.m. on Monday, May 8, 2023.