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When my son was shot and paralyzed, I learned how broken Pa.’s home care system is | Opinion

But with federal funding we have an opportunity to improve it.

Home care worker Lisa Savage with her sons Brandon and Justin.
Home care worker Lisa Savage with her sons Brandon and Justin.Read moreCourtesy of Lisa Savage

A mother’s love is a force to be reckoned with. And 11 years ago, that depth of love was pushed even deeper.

On the evening of May 22, 2010, my son Brandon was shot through the neck by a stray bullet. And after two surgeries, the doctors confirmed that my sweet boy was paralyzed from the chest down. Brandon had just finished his second year at Wilmington University on a full ride basketball scholarship. All of a sudden, our entire lives were turned upside down. And my family’s experience exposed me to the brokenness of the home care system in Pennsylvania — a system we now have a chance to improve.

There isn’t a world where I am not my son’s keeper. After the accident, Brandon asked me if I could care for him in our home. So I retired from my good union job of 20 years at Verizon, where I had great health insurance, paid leave, and a retirement plan, to become my son’s caregiver. After Brandon’s accident, he spent four weeks in the hospital and another six months in a rehab center, learning to regain muscle memory in order to be as independent as possible. He came home December 2010 and for 13 months, I went unpaid as his caregiver. Although Brandon was allotted 13 hours per day of care in our home through Medicaid at the beginning of that December, I didn’t start receiving a paycheck until the end of January 2012. I made call after call during those months but was always given the runaround for why I had not yet been paid.

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If it hadn’t been for my savings and retirement funds, I could not have provided for my family as a single mom to two boys, and my 20-year-old son would have been placed in a state-run nursing facility. My options were so pitiful that they left me feeling helpless and isolated.

The home care system in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. is built on the backs of an invisible workforce, disproportionately women of color, and we are too often not cared for ourselves. The average essential domestic or home care worker makes $12 per hour, putting us among the lowest paid workers in our economy. We are a profession of over 2.2 million underpaid, under-trained, and overworked individuals.

We cannot be expected to continue to take care of others without being able to take care of ourselves. This is our time to rise up together and demand what is fair: higher, livable wages, better benefits, and an opportunity to organize or join a union and collectively bargain. We will do this together. My brothers and sisters across the country are organizing with SEIU and other unions to make home care jobs quality jobs — and to advocate for the kind of federal support we can get through President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

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President Biden proposes a $400 billion investment in the nation’s care infrastructure, to support the direct care workforce and ensure quality care for the seniors and people with disabilities who need it.

This funding will help us finally be recognized and compensated as a crucial part of the workforce that, although it keeps our communities running, is in desperate need of attention and change. This is part of the overall $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, backed by Sen. Bob Casey and my union, SEIU HCPA, that gives us hope for the future.

If home care workers are respected as promised, and caregivers are able to receive higher pay, insurance, even a retirement plan, it would mean our families could finally thrive as a real part of our community. A respectable wage would mean taking better care of my sons, but it would also mean that I could take better care of myself, so that I can live as long as possible to continue to care for Brandon. There are over two million home care workers across the country. We are not alone, and we are no longer invisible.

Lisa Savage is a single mom of two boys, Brandon and Justin, and SEIU HCPA member living in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at