Former home care worker: I don’t understand why the State of Maine has neglected to support this type of care

Former home care worker Mona Burgoin on Feb. 26 asked state legislators to support legislation known as LD 2109 strengthening Maine’s long-term care workforce. We also testified in support.

AUGUSTA — My name is Mona Bourgoin. I am here today, not for myself, but as an advocate for the rights of the elderly, the disabled and for the homecare workers who travel from home to home to care for clients across the State of Maine. I am here to support the legislative bill LD 2109, An Act to Implement The Recommendations of the Commission to Study Long-term Care Workforce Issues.

I am going to share my story with all of you. By the age of 26, both fathers on both sides of the family had passed on, leaving my husband and I to take care of our mothers with the things they couldn’t do. At age 30, my husband had a snowmobile accident and was paralyzed from the waist down; doctors told him he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I, on the other hand, decided that I wasn’t going to give up on him. I continued to do the physical therapy I was taught on our journey within the medical field. When I brought him home, he struggled to do anything for himself. Prior to him passing away, he was able to get out of his wheelchair, moved on to the walker, then to crutches, was able to drive his vehicle, able to do many things he never dreamed of doing again. Unfortunately, he passed from a hereditary illness six years later.

I remarried four years later, when my children were of age and ready to start their own lives. Unfortunately, I lost my son that year to a motorcycle accident. I grieved for a couple of years and discovered I had married a man who really wasn’t very nice. I found myself wanting to move on with my life, so I took a CNA course so that I could provide for myself when leaving that relationship. However, I was blessed when my mother-in-law, who I loved very much and who understood all too well the life I was living, asked me to take her in to care for her. I stayed in that relationship because she had been through her own and I felt for her. I wanted her to be at peace, I also wanted her final wishes accommodated in her last days. She wanted to be with family and she didn’t want to go to the nursing home. I gladly took her in and cared for her that last year of her life. She spent three days in the hospital and then passed away.

I then worked for a homecare facility to provide for myself and left the relationship I was in. I was asked to move in with my son-in-law’s mom, who also didn’t want to go into a nursing home for care. She had met me on two separate occasions and she apparently took a liking to me. I agreed to care for her in her last days. One month prior to her death, I moved to a house one street over and continued to go over daily to care for her. A woman who also went in to clean her home early in the morning found her and she had passed away from her illness.

I then moved away and found work at a nursing home. I needed medical insurance and they offered this along with other benefits. I found the nursing home facilities understaffed, I also felt that one doesn’t always get what I would describe as quality care. I had worked in homecare and the quality of care was much better for the client. I really felt that unless one was on their death bed, a nursing home wasn’t the place for an anyone to be.

The quality of their life was much better being surrounded by family and friends, who visited and stayed in touch with the client, which unfortunately was not seen in nursing homes on a regular basis. For whatever reason, many families stopped showing up to visit once their loved one entered a nursing home. I also felt that when I entered the home as a homecare provider, I was able to grant them the quality of care they desired and needed until their time came to pass on to eternal life. I left that nursing home job because it broke my heart; I was used to granting my clients “quality” care. I felt that I was never one to do anything poorly, and I was either going to do it well, or not do it at all. So, I ended up finding a job at a sawmill, with all the benefits I needed, and I decided to walk away from the medical profession.

I received a call four years later from an elderly woman who I had made a promise to several years earlier. She had no family in the area and she was at her wits end. Her two girls lived in Connecticut and they couldn’t take her in at the time, so I told them she couldn’t live alone anymore and she didn’t want to go to a nursing home. I agreed to take her in as long as they sent her money to take care of her personal expenses, and they agreed. Since she could not read and write, her daughter was taking care of all financial matters. She received four hundred dollars a month, a little over two hundred for her cigarettes and the rest for her personal needs, copays, vitamins, etc… I never charged her a penny for anything.

She stayed with me for almost a year, and I found myself struggling to pay my own bills and paying for her needs because she wasn’t being sent enough money to provide for her needs. Being that I value human life, I dished out my money to make sure her needs were taken care of while she lived with me. When I finally couldn’t provide anymore, I informed her daughters, we made arrangements for her to go stay with them, and they now provide for her. She still calls me to thank me for all I did for her. I have no regrets, but I will say that cost me financially and I am still behind on two of my bills that I am working on to catch up on.

I again applied to go work for a homecare facility in Maine. I love working for the elderly and those with disabilities in my area; it comes naturally to me. But after a short amount of time, I discovered that after the traveling expenses (gas, wear and tear on my vehicle, etc.) the wages were too little for what we do, especially with the lack of benefits. I came to the conclusion that I could not afford to stay in this profession.

I also ended up getting ill and I couldn’t even afford to go at the hospital since I had no insurance. My vehicle broke down and I couldn’t afford to fix it. When all was said and done, regardless of how much I loved this job, I had to walk away. After all, home care workers also have bills to pay and needs that must be met while caring for others around them. When those necessary needs aren’t met, people will walk away and work for a facility that can meet those needs.

I also don’t understand why the State of Maine has neglected to support this type of care. It cost a whole lot less to keep the elderly and disabled in their homes than to pay huge amounts of money monthly for them to stay in nursing homes. The quality of care is also much better at home.

I want to remind all of you that one day, we will be the ones who are elderly, we will be the ones who are ill, and we will be the ones who are in need of quality care. The decisions we make today, we will live out tomorrow. I ask that you put yourselves in the shoes of both those in need of help and those who provide that care.

Yes, I am very passionate about this subject. My own journey through life speaks volumes about how I feel in regards to this issue. I ask that you seriously consider and support this legislative bill. I would also like to thank you for taking the time to hear the concerns of those in need and homecare workers across the State of Maine. Again, thank you.

Updated: February 26, 2020 — 4:46 PM