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Critical Lifelines: Portraits & Stories of Direct Care Workers

Assistance from Direct Care Workers (DCWs) is crucial for many older adults and individuals with disabilities  living in a variety of settings.  "Critical Lifelines" provides a glimpse into the lives of this essential highly skilled, yet largely unrecognized workforce.  Explore the Critical Lifelines Virtual Gallery for stories and portraits of all thirty-one interviewed DCWs:


Homecare Service in a Snowstorm

With roads blocked by snow, Sheila recounts hiking to a client trapped in her home.  Thanks to Sheila, the woman survived and received more help in time to divert a tragedy.

  • Sheila Wedell, Escanaba, MI bubbles with life. She raises doves, is active in church with bible study and teaching Sunday school, has taken up gardening, and loves time with her grandkids. She is a self-described people-person, confident, entrepreneurial, and boisterous. She got into DCW work at age 10 when she started a “pooper scooper” business, cleaning up people’s yards to raise money for 45 rpm records. Some of her older clients started asking her for help with home care and she’s been doing it on and off ever since. She soaks up her client’s life stories. She also relayed unjust accusations of theft, sexually inappropriate advances, and devastating grief when a client dies. She wants DCWs to get training, credentials and respect.


Homecare Professionals: Uncommon Commitment 

Henrietta Ivey describes the typical services she provides, the importance of compassion, building relationships with clients and her commitment to supporting them.

  • Henrietta Ivey, Detroit, MI, licensed pharmacy technician, started out as a family caregiver then her paid Direct Care work grew by word-of-mouth. For her, it is all about the love and compassion she gives, the relationships she develops with her clients, and knowing she’s made someone’s life better.  She hopes someone will be compassionate enough to help her out one day. Henrietta takes pride in doing her job well and refers to herself as a homecare professional.  She has become a staunch activist, fighting for home care workers’ rights to a living wage, benefits and more respect. She has been told by policy makers, “This is not a real job that you do. Get a real job.” to which she responds, “We’re part of the healthcare system so it would be nice for someone to finally recognize, these are real workers. We should not have to be ridiculed or disrespected because of the choices that we make on what we’re trying to do to help other people.”


Handling Emergencies on the Job

Diane Saari recalls how a client experienced a heart attack during her shift.  Because of Diane's calm and efficient response, the client received timely emergency treatment and survived.

  • Diane Saari, Kingsford, MI and Donna Aberly, Crystal Falls, MI.  Both women have been DCWs for over 20 years. They entered the field to supplement their husband’s income with some “extra money” and have no plans to quit because “It makes us happy.” In their early 70s, they still provide a full range of care from companionship to heavy lifting. They face diverse situations, never really knowing what they are walking into, but have learned to take things in stride. They each have stories of clients who threatened them, accidentally set their clothes or the house on fire, unjustly accused them of theft, had heart attacks while in their care, or died and left them grieving. In all cases, they stress that it is their job to stay calm and it helps to have a lifetime of experience.

"Critical Lifelines" is made possible by a grant from: The Archie Green Fellowship at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20540-4610 and with funding from: The Michigan Health Endowment Fund, 7927 Nemco Way, Brighton, MI 48116

Critical Lifelines Personnel:

  • Dr. Clare Luz, Principal Investigator (PI), Director: Age Alive & IMPART Alliance, MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Dr. Marsha MacDowell, Co-PI; Curator of Folk Arts, MSU Museum; Professor, Department of Art and Art History
  • Khalid Ibrahim, Co-PI, Photographer; Clinical Research Informatics Technologist, MSU Biomedical Research Informatics Core/Clinical and Translational Sciences and Eat Pomegranate Photography
  • Katherine Hanson, Special Projects Coordinator, IMPART Alliance, MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine