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New service gives commuting home health aides a needed lift

Home health aide Rookmani Kishore, of South Ozone

Home health aide Rookmani Kishore, of South Ozone Park, was given a ride by Keith Porter, of Wheatley Heights, a driver for The Burning Bush Family Foundation.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Home health aides whose long commutes on public transportation have turned from inconvenient to scary due to the coronavirus pandemic may get a break through a new initiative to ferry them in private cars.

The Massapequa-based nonprofit All Things Home Care Inc. has partnered with the Burning Bush Family Foundation in Wheatley Heights to provide about 50 rides to half a dozen aides each week, and the organizations are seeking to raise money to expand the service.

Dana Arnone, who runs the for-profit Reliance Home Senior Services and started All Things Home Care, said COVID-19 has brought the issue of transportation to the forefront of patient and provider concerns.

"One of the biggest problems that we ran into during COVID-19 was families asking every day, ‘How is it they're getting to my house? … I don’t want them on public transportation,’ " where they could be exposed to the virus, Arnone said.

At the same time, many aides stopped working because of the risk of exposure on public transportation, she added.

"They did not want to be on the bus," Arnone said. "They were very afraid to bring COVID back to their homes, to their children."

Home health aides, who often take care of elderly patients, generally get paid minimum wage and rely on public transportation. Arnone’s agency started paying for rideshare services to get some aides to work, but it was too costly to continue for very long, she said.

Last month, All Things Home Care, now headed by former New York Assemb. Christine Pellegrino, launched its new initiative, which is open to any home health aides working in Nassau or Suffolk counties.

The free rides are targeted to aides who do not have access to a car, whose commute on public transportation is 90 minutes or more, who work Sundays when transportation options are more limited, and who see multiple patients or the public transportation they usually take is canceled due to weather.

One of the first aides to take advantage of the program was Rookmani Kishore, whose commute from Ozone Park, Queens, to New Hyde Park on two buses took 90 minutes each way.

"I’m scared to take a bus but I have no other choice," Kishore said of her commute before she began taking the car service. "I can't afford to take a cab to work."

Kishore said she also spent money on masks and hand sanitizer to protect herself, her family and her patient.

Renee Joshua-Porter, executive director of the Burning Bush Family Foundation, said that her organization’s focus is on recreational and educational programs for families but that when the pandemic hit they no longer needed to use their transportation capacity to serve children. The foundation’s volunteers are now driving the aides, with the foudnation paying for insurance, protective equipment and gas.

"On Long Island, public transportation is definitely a challenge," Joshua-Porter said. "We’ve morphed to be able to provide this private transportation service for the home care workers, especially, to the residences of the patients that live off of the public transportation route."

Joshua-Porter said she expects the service to continue beyond the pandemic so that aides can shorten their commutes and "spend more time with their family and still go to work."

GUIDELINES FOR A FREE LIFT

Special consideration is given to home health aides who:

• Do not have access to a vehicle

• Take multiple forms of transportation to a patient’s home

• Travel in excess of 90 minutes to or from a patient’s home

• See multiple patients in a day

• Work on Sundays when public transportation is limited

• Have been unable to get to patients homes because of bad weather

Source: All Things Home Care Inc.

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