When Deirdre Fishel, a New York City-based Jewish filmmaker, watched her 85-year-old mother’s struggle with living alone, she wanted to help. What started as a simple search for a home heath aide unfolded into a two-year intensive examination of the elder care system — all through the lens of her upcoming documentary, “Care”.
The film, which has recently begun crowdfunding, chronicles the stories of three home health aides and their elderly clients. Vilma, the central figure in “Care,” is an undocumented worker from Costa Rica caring for Dee, a 94-year old woman suffering from dementia. Their story is two-pronged — Vilma is making poverty wages without benefits. Dee has gone through her life savings.
According to Rachel McCullough, Community Organizer for Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers Campaign and a consultant on the documentary, Vilma and Dee’s story is not an unusual one.
“Very few of us are prepared to spend upwards of $50,000 to 60,000 a year for ten years on home care,” McCullough said. “Especially those who fall into the care gap — people who are not eligible for Medicaid but can’t afford private long-term care insurance.” McCullough notes that, like Vilma, the home aide workforce is made up predominately of female immigrants. “They are completely unsupported,” she said. “Without benefits and protection and the basic training and career ladders.”
Despite a system rife with issues, Fishel was determined to capture moments of beauty in her film.
“People ask me all the time if this has been a depressing experience,” Fishel said. “But I find the relationships between the families and the workers so human, so real and inspiring.” She credits the film “Amour,” a narrative about a husband caring for his wife after a stroke, for inspiring her to bring her subjects’ stories to light. “It was so eye-opening because I had never seen one adult taking care of another one in such an intimate way,” she said. “I thought, if this is happening all over the country, why is this an image that is so unfamiliar?”
Fishel admits that her film — with scenes of the elderly being helped with bathing, dressing and simply getting out of bed — has proven uncomfortable to watch for some. But she deems it the universal cycle of life.
“They are us, we are them,” she noted. “It’s showing a humanness in this crazy world.”