Immigrants Care for Older Americans, Including Me

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I’m in a rehab hospital where immigrant eldercare dominates.

The “rehab” part is code for “nursing home,” and since I just had my right ankle replaced with a shiny new one, I quality for short-term assistance.

From here in New York City to the small cities across America, immigrants increasingly watch over the oldest and most frail among us.

  • My patient-care assistant tonight is Comfort. She’s from Ghana.
  • My nurse is from Ukraine. “Well,” she said, “It’s called Ukraine now, but it’s been lots of things.”
  • The young Chinese-American doctor assigned to my floor said she chose to specialize in geriatrics. “I grew up in a multi-generational household and have known for a long time where I wanted to be.”
  • Yesterday’s physical therapist is from Argentina, and the other one I’ve seen swings back and forth between English and her native Spanish as she greets people on the rehab floor.
  • A smart OT I work with, has an almost undetectable accent, but one that reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that includes why they uprooted and moved.

The care I’m receiving is good and feels genuinely easy for these women to offer.

And that, alone, makes it easier to receive.

Immigrant eldercare rapidly increasing

A February 2018 New York Times article says that one in four nursing home workers is foreign born, and between 2005 and 2015, the number of immigrants who work for themselves in state-funded, elder home care programs doubled to more than a million.

In New York, California, New Jersey and Florida, more than 40% of direct-care workers are immigrants.

And who knows how many immigrants are hired privately to care for the elderly.

Her accent reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that include why they uprooted and moved.

I feel safe

Earlier today my patient-care assistant, Wilma, entered the room smiling as she finished a conversation with a fellow worker.

When I asked about the language they were speaking she said, “We’re both from Haiti, and that was Creole.”

“Now,” she said, turning her attention fully to me, “Let’s get you to the bathroom. You’re doing so well.”

And isn’t that encouragement the elixir everyone needs for healing?

Right now I hear laughing in the halls – the life-is-good sort that sounds like a choice to look through the viewfinder of optimism.

Surrounded by immigrants I feel safe, comfortable, and a bother to no one.

I wonder how they feel.

Take Action!

Read Paula Span’s New York Times article, “If immigrants are pushed out, who will care for the elderly?”

See Carolyn Rosenblatt’s Forbes article, “Aging parents, immigrants and the caregiving cliff.”

Read Ted Hessen’s Politico article, “Why baby boomers need immigrants.”

Check out this post about immigrants in Maine.

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Ellen is a mother, wife, trainer, RCST, writer and reader. She now adds to that list — new ankle explorer. You can reach her at:

“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West