Documentary film producer Tony Heriza first became aware of the vital work that in-home care aids perform when his own mother, who was living in Baker City, Oregon, needed day-to-day help in her late 80s.
"My mother lived in her own home until she was almost 99." Heriza told "Think Out Loud." "And she was able to do that for the final 10 years because of an incredible team of home care workers, that started with a few hours a day."
He said he didn't appreciate the economics of in-home care workers lives until he started researching and working on the film. He didn't think about giving his mother's care worker a raise or paid holidays or sick days.
Watch the trailer for Heriza's film, "Care," about the in-home care industry.
Portlander Joy'e Willman said that's how it was for her when she first started doing care work 25 years ago. She now belongs to — and now helps lead — a union, which guarantees her a livable wage and benefits. For 23 of those 25 years, she has cared for a man named Laddie Read.
Willman describes her close relationship with Laddie as one that's "like family." The list of things she helps him with has grown significantly over the years, and now his needs are related to his cerebral palsy and just plain aging.
"I help him get out of bed. I change him. I empty his urinals," she said, later adding, "Before, he could feed himself, I'd just have prepare it. Now I have to hand feed him, give him his medication, make any doctors appointments, make any appointments for his durable medical equipment that may need repair or anything ... go out with him when he's going to meetings."
Read and his work as a disability rights advocate were profiled in The Oregonian newspaper in the early 2000s.
Cheryl Miller, executive director of the Oregon Home Care Commission, says only about 14 percent of Medicaid recipients are in nursing facilities. The rest, she says, are getting in-home or community care.
"Oregon for a long time has been a leader around the nation when it comes to long term care services," Miller said.
But for a lot of Oregonians — and other Americans — covering the cost of in-home care is a huge issue. All too often insurers will pay some or all of the costs for nursing home facilities but not for in-home care workers.
Miller said that in Oregon, residents can get in touch with the state's ADRC, Aging and Disability Resource Connection, to find out about programs they may be eligible for and get free "long-term care options counselors."
Producer Tony Heriza is hoping his film sparks conversations — personal conversations among families over the dinner table, and policy conversations in communities and state capitals.
The Clinton Street Theater will host a screening of the film Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PST, along with a community discussion afterward. "Care" premieres on the World channel Sept. 5 and will be subsequently lived streamed.