I met 3 dedicated and courageous women last week. Not in person, but in the pages of The New York Times.

Paula, a home health aide, works 12-hour shifts for a care recipient in Manhattan. She carefully disinfects herself after work each night because she cares for a person who recently tested positive for COVID-19. Paula can’t protect herself adequately at work because her supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) consists of “one gown, and a few masks and gloves,” which she received with “vague instructions on reuse.”

Yolanda, a home health aide in Queens, watched a beloved care recipient die from COVID-19, and then got sick herself. She lost 6 weeks of income because she had little paid leave to fall back on.

Sonya provides daily care to an older adult living in an assisted living community on Long Island. She takes the same risks as other caregivers in that community, but is excluded from weekly, state-mandated testing of workers for COVID-19 because she is employed by an outside agency.

Meeting these women, and hearing their stories, reinforced what I know about the home health aides and certified nursing assistants (CNA) who work in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and in the homes of older adults.

They are dedicated professionals whose jobs are becoming increasingly demanding and complex.

They create strong bonds with the people to whom they provide care. They know these care recipients well because they spend more time with them than anyone else. And they often recognize and respond to emerging health concerns sooner than medical clinicians ever could.

And what do they get in return? Compensation that hovers around minimum wage. In too many cases, they’re forced to seek public assistance to make ends meet. They often don’t receive the training they need to do jobs that each year require more advanced skills. Most have little hope of moving up the career ladder.

These facts are hard to swallow under normal circumstances. But add in the risks associated with providing care and companionship to older adults during a pandemic, and these facts become even more disgraceful.

Times writer E. Tammy Kim rightfully maintains that aides and CNAs have become “as indispensable as nurses and doctors” during this pandemic. And yet, the nation continues to undervalue the important work they do, even to the point of ignoring their need for PPE and testing—both vital to keeping them safe and healthy as they travel between care recipients and workplaces during these dangerous times. These caregivers also aren’t getting the comprehensive hero pay, paid sick leave, and health care coverage they deserve.

Paula, Yolanda, Sonya, and so many of their caregiving colleagues are working at the epicenter of this pandemic. They rose to this occasion, setting aside their own fears about the coronavirus, coming to work each day to care for those most in need and most at risk for contracting this deadly illness. And they do this largely without recognition, adequate protection, or fair compensation.

This doesn’t make any sense to me. It makes me angry. And it can’t continue.

The pandemic offers LeadingAge, its state partners, and its members an unprecedented opportunity to go to bat for the caregivers who are essential workers in every aging services organization.

We need to continue doing what we can, at the organization level, to provide the compensation, training, and support aides and CNAs need to provide high-quality services and supports to vulnerable older Americans. But we also need to work tirelessly at the state and federal levels to make sure policymakers understand the need to support these essential workers with more than empty accolades.

I don’t understand why our government is not helping direct care workers and older adults stay healthy during the current crisis. I hope you will join our Act for Older Adults campaign to change the government's apparent indifference into life-saving action.