Latino Caregivers For Elderly Relatives Get Help




From Left - Maria Perez and her daughter Carmen Minchoff of Branford listen to care instructions from Olfa Santana-Zephirin RN with Assisted Living Services (ALS). ALS is a credentialed provider for a state program that pays relatives to care for elderly family members at home.
From Left – Maria Perez and her daughter Carmen Minchoff of Branford listen to care instructions from Olfa Santana-Zephirin, RN with Assisted Living Services (ALS). ALS is a credentialed provider for a state program that pays relatives to care for elderly family members at home.

Annika Darling/
Twelve years ago, after Maria Perez had a stroke, which left her struggling to communicate, to do things she used to do and to even walk, daughter Carmen Minchoff stepped in to lend a loving hand. Minchoff was faced with a number of decisions regarding care for her now 90-year-old mother, but knew that no matter what, she wanted to be by her side.
There was the financial aspect to consider, and if Minchoff wanted to properly care for her mother, she would have to be there 24/7. So, working outside the home would be difficult to impossible. At first, Minchoff had nurses come to take care of her mother. “I saw the nurses coming to the house to care for her,” says Minchoff, “and I thought there has to be a way that I can get some kind of compensation, because I do what they do.”
After looking into it, Minchoff found there was one such program that would compensate her for being a caregiver for her mother: the Connecticut Adult Family Living/Foster Caregiver (AFL) program—part of the Department of Social Services’ Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders (CHCPE).
The program provides qualified candidates a weekly stipend to care for their elderly family member, proper training to do so and a registered nurse for periodic visits.
“The woman that comes here is so lovely,” says Minchoff of Olfa Santana-Zephirin, RN. “She speaks Spanish so that is great for momma. They have a good time. It also keeps her connected to the community and that’s really good.”
Santana-Zephirin visits Perez and Minchoff once every six weeks. “We do education, like what the signs of stroke are, standard precautions, the importance of hand washing. I make sure they have disposable gloves, and a fire extinguisher—which is required, things like that.”
For Minchoff, the program has helped relieve stress as a caregiver. However, she says, “I would have been with my mother no matter what.”
A sentiment many in the Latino community share, which is why Minchoff and others from the program want to make sure the Latino community is aware that this kind of relief is available.
“We want to help area families with this option to provide the necessary support services their loved-ones need to age safely at home,” says Ron D’Aquila, RN, co-founder and vice president of ALS. “Not only does the program train and educate foster caregivers on how to provide care, but it also helps keep people at home, as most people prefer as they age, instead of having to go into a nursing home.” It can also reduce costs associated with home care and institutional care, according to D’Aquila. D’Aquila explains that a caregiver can receive a tax-free stipend of over $500 per week, depending on the complexity of care.”
“In the Latino community, even if they don’t get paid, they are going to take care of each other,” says Santana-Zephirin. “We really take care of our elderly, and I think this program is very beneficial especially for the Spanish community. This program has incentive, which is nice because sometimes you really have to get out of the house and work and you feel bad that you can’t stay and take care of your family member, but this program makes it possible for a lot of people.”
Minchoff agrees wholeheartedly, saying, “My mother is 90 years old. I’d rather have her with me than with a bunch of strangers. In her case, she can’t even communicate, and I understand what she wants and what she needs because I’ve been with her. I’m aware of everything. Her doctor says ‘Wow, look at her!’, seeing the difference from when we first got her and now.”
That Perez has lived 12 years past her stroke could have something to do with Minchoff’s decision to do at home care, rather than a facility. Many studies link nursing home placements to higher death rates (this includes a study at Case Western Reserve University, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,).
Santana-Zephirin says there are many benefits to at-home family caregivers. “I think they try more,” she explains. “And I think [the elderly] last longer because they are part of the family. When they are in nursing homes, sometimes the family doesn’t visit them as often and they have strangers taking care of them. With Carmen and Maria, Carmen knows her mother and makes the food she likes, talks to her about grandkids—mentioning them by name. I think it is more engaging. You can tell that [the elders] look happier.”
Minchoff is extremely appreciative to have found the program and hopes that sharing her story others will realize that relief in this kind of situation is possible. But at the end of the day, Minchoff is truly glad to still have her mother.
“I just asked God for one more day,” says Minchoff of her mother’s stoke. “I’ve been blessed because I got 12 more years so far. And the program … what can I say, it just helps. It really helps.”
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