EVERETT, Wash. - According to AARP, about half of all Americans in the workforce will be caring for an aging relative within the next five years. For others, it's a child with disabilities. Either way, in November, National Family Caregivers Month celebrates the challenges and rewards.
In David Lindberg's case, like many, it happened suddenly, when a rare medical condition caused his grown son's kidneys to fail. Lindberg was already working in Washington as a professional caregiver in nursing homes, but says he was unprepared for the intensity of his son's life-threatening illness.
"It's been one major step after another, but it's brought us so close together. However, if it were not for the fact that I am treated and respected as a professional person, he would never, ever receive the care that he is entitled to."
There are about 43,000 professional home-care workers in Washington, and some are paid by the state to provide care for family members who cannot otherwise live on their own. They make just over $10 an hour. Lindberg says it's been tough to live on that, but he makes it work.
"In my case, I chose not to have a second job because it's a priority for that young man's life, and I'm his advocate. But so many others don't have that fortunate opportunity. They have to work in other jobs to make ends meet; they have to have somebody else come in."
The caregivers union, SEIU Healthcare 775, recently negotiated a contract to raise their wages to about $11 an hour by 2015. Lindberg says the union offers benefits, such as health insurance and training, that he would not otherwise be able to afford.
He says state cutbacks in home-care services have also affected his family. He hopes it will not discourage people from choosing home-care careers, because many more will be needed as Washington's population ages.
"Thank goodness we have background checks, and thank goodness we have some level of training that offers some experience for them when they come in the door. Once they get through that, they begin to feel more comfortable."
The Lindbergs' family caregiving journey began in 2001. Today, Tim Lindberg is 37 years old, and although he has many medical challenges, he is doing well. And David Lindberg, who is now 69, says his son is his hero.