With more than four decades of experience as a Partners in Care home health aide, Patricia W. holds the distinction of having served longer than any other home health aide at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Not surprisingly, she has more than a few stories to tell. One of the patients who sticks in her mind most was a handsome young man named Brad*—a model-turned-actor she cared for several years. An HIV patient, he always welcomed Patricia with open arms and loved reliving his past with her. “It’s when I was with Brad,” says Patricia, “that I learned the most important thing is to talk with patients … and to listen.”
Another patient she remembers fondly is a Southern woman named Edith*, whom she cared for over a five-year period. Edith suffered from Alzheimer’s, but Patricia learned how to communicate with her client as she cooked, cleaned, and, just as importantly, sat conversing with her. “I did everything I could to make her comfortable,” says Patricia, “but it was our talking together that made the difference in her quality of life.”
Every day, over 8,000 Partners in Care home health aides provide care to thousands of New Yorkers. Out of this large and dedicated group, five have been with Partners in Care since the affiliate was acquired by VNSNY in 1983—including two who have been working with Partners in Care since the 1970s. Patricia joined Partners in Care in 1976, a year when Gerald Ford was president, inflation was high, and the country celebrated its bicentennial.
Patricia’s caregiving career began in the Caribbean. As a teenager, she helped care for an ailing aunt by getting her into bed, changing her bedpans, and making sure she was eating properly. When her family moved to Brooklyn, she attended Clara Barton Vocational High School, where health courses were part of the curriculum. Patricia took a home health position after high school. When a VNSNY social worker came to counsel one of Patricia’s patients, she liked what she saw in the young health care worker and recommended Patricia to Partners in Care.
Patricia recently lightened her workload—“age is creeping up on me,” she says—if a schedule that’s essentially full-time can be called “light.” She now has only two patients: in the mornings, she cares for a woman in Brownsville with diabetes, and in the afternoons she attends to an East Flatbush gentleman with arthritis. “I love my work so much! Who knows when I’ll be ready to hang up my uniform?”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the quality of care Patricia continues to provide, or her belief in the power of listening. “You’ve got to listen to your patients and laugh with them, especially if they have no family,” she explains. “The smile on a client’s face lets me know I’m giving them the kind of help and respect that I would want when I’m the one in need of care.”
* The patients’ names have been changed for privacy.