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Lack of resources for caregivers and shortage of staff forces families to fill the void with the care of a loved one

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 over the past six years, photographing 11-year-old Preston needs no occasion.

“I would say because maybe I don’t have Preston,” White said. “His accident happened in 2016. He had just turned five. He was hit by a car which left him with numerous health issues.”

Preston suffered three serious brain injuries.

“Everything just changed after that,” White said.

Preston can no longer walk or talk.

“On a good day, Preston would be awake. He would be smiling, happy, interacting with therapies. He loves music, he loves movies,” the mother said. “On a tough bad day, there are usually convulsions. Preston is struggling with a ton of respiratory issues.

This is why Preston requires round-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 clocked in as Preston’s Certified Nursing Assistant. Among his many responsibilities caring for Preston, White puts him to bed, repositions him every two hours, adjusts his oxygen, and constantly monitors him for a crisis.

While White is paid to look after Preston, wages are low and the responsibility is far from easy.

White shared her struggles with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who visited the family on Friday to find out more about their situation.

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

Low pay, burnout and the rigors of providing direct care have led to a staffing shortage among Colorado’s caregivers, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

According to CHI, the problem is likely to get worse, as research shows that almost one in five Coloradans is expected to be 65 or older by 2030, of whom around one in four will need some form of direct care in his last years.

“The tax credit bill is bipartisan legislation that I have that would help. I’m on the finance committee, where we’re constantly looking to see if we can change these incentive structures for Medicaid or Medicare to making sure we’ve given people a fair bit more so they can survive,” Bennett said. “I also supported ProAct. It would make it easier for people like Jenna to join a union and collectively bargain her salary.

In the meantime, White hopes to keep the two nurses who have developed a bond with Preston over the years.

“I hope Preston stays healthy and will always be part of our family,” she said. “I’m here with open arms until it’s his time.”