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Lack of caregiver resources, staff shortage force families to fill in gap with loved one's care

Arapahoe County family shared their journey with Senator Michael Bennet
White Family
Posted at 10:39 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-18 00:39:56-04

DENVER — In Jenna White's Arapahoe County home, the family photos continue to grow.

Capturing special moments has always been a priority for the White family, but for the last six years, photographing 11-year-old Preston doesn't require an occasion.

"I would say because I might not have Preston," White said. "His accident happened in 2016. He had just turned five years old. He was struck by a car, which left him with many medical conditions."

Preston suffered three severe brain injuries.

"Everything just changed after that," White said.

Preston isn't able to walk or talk anymore.

"On a good day, Preston would be awake. He would be smiley, happy, interacting with therapies. He loves music, he loves movies," the mother said. "On a bad, hard day is usually seizures. Preston struggles with a ton of respiratory issues."

That's why Preston requires around-the-clock care.

"We have two different nurses," White said. "One works Sunday through Wednesday, and she's here from eight to six."

All other times, White is on the clock as Preston's certified nursing assistant. Among her many responsibilities looking after Preston, White puts him to bed, repositions him every two hours, adjusts his oxygen and monitors him constantly in case of a seizure.

While White gets paid to care for Preston, the wages are low, and the responsibility is far from easy.

White shared her struggles with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who visited the family Friday to learn more about the their situation.

"They're getting paid incredibly poorly," Bennet told Denver7. "I think it's really important for us to figure out how to pay people better for jobs that can't get outsourced overseas and are essential to our humanity."

The low wages, burnout and the rigors of providing direct care have led to staffing shortages among Colorado's caregivers, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

According to CHI, the problem is likely to get worse, as research shows nearly one in five Coloradans are expected to be 65 or older by 2030, with about one in four of them requiring some form of direct care in their later years.

"The Tax Credit Bill is a piece of bipartisan legislation that I have that would help. I'm on the finance committee, where we're constantly looking to see whether we can tweak these incentive structures for Medicaid or Medicare to make sure that we've given people a little bit more just so they can survive," Bennet said. "I've been a supporter of the ProAct as well. That would make it easier for people like Jenna to join a union and collectively bargain for her wages.

In the meantime, White is hoping to keep the two nurses that have developed a bond with Preston over the years.

"My hope is that Preston will stay healthy and still be a part of our family," she said. "I'm here with open arms until it's his time."