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Sunnyside home aide honored for dedication

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"Homecare workers, who provide quality care and restore dignity to the lives of homebound and elderly New Yorkers, are unsung heroes in our city," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). Simone said it was flattering to be recognized. "I felt tremendously honored, but I didn't feel that I deserved it," she said. "There are a lot of home-care workers that are extremely dedicated, but you don't hear of the ones that are dedicated. You hear about the ones that are bad apples."Simone's passion for home care developed when a friend of hers gave birth to a quadriplegic child."When he was born, they said that they should just leave him without any food and he will die," she said. "The parents would not accept that. They took the child home, and he lived almost nine years. The happiness that he brought to that home is immeasurable. It was a special child. He could not speak, he could not walk, he could not talk. He could not even swallow because he did not have the proper muscles to swallow. "I used to go and help them, because I fell in love with that child," she said. Simone, now 67, started her home-care career in 1999.Home-care workers like Simone stay with their patients for days at a time. Simone said she spends 24 hours a day, four days a week, at the homes of her patients."You have baby boomers now entering this age where some folks need to be cared for at home. That option is encouraged over being institutionalized at a nursing home," said Leah Gonzalez, spokeswoman for 1199, a health-care workers union that represents 75,000 home-care workers in New York City.These days, Simone deals with elderly patients, many of whom suffer from Alzheimer's disease."They're disoriented to begin with," she said. "If they're moved place to place, they become even more disoriented. They should be staying in their homes instead of a nursing home because they do get better care."She said the greatest reward of her job is seeing improvement in her patients' quality of life."Even with Alzheimer's patients, if you do have patience for them, and you give them a lot of tender, loving care, you do get [something] back. They're very happy to see me, and I put music on. Music is good for anyone. And we sing together. And we do talk a lot. The past is their best friend."But Simone is also an activist pressing for the rights of her fellow homecare workers."These are workers who are doing a huge job and it's largely immigrant women," Gonzalez said. "They are paid very low wages, and many times they don't have any kind of benefits."Simone considers herself lucky because her contract includes health coverage. In 2004 she underwent knee replacement surgery. In 2005, diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a lumpectomy, followed by a mastectomy in 2006"If I had to pay for all of that, I don't think that I would be alive," she said. "Who can afford all of these expenses?"Simone said she hoped the Council's recognition would help raise awareness of the problems homecare workers face.Gonzalez said the honor is representative of a change."The elected leaders here in New York state, I think, have been in recent years very supportive of the cause of homecare workers," she said.Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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