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Labor Market

Eastern Europeans make German home care possible

Roughly 100,000 eastern European women work in assisted care in Germany. Some live at home with the families they help. DW heads to Bremerhaven to see how the model works in practice.

Joseffa Gosse is 58 years old. "In Poland, it's hard for me to find work," she says in good German. She was therefore happy to find work in Germany - it's better paid, anyway. Joseffa has her own room at home where she cares for a man afflicted with Parkinson's, but she doesn't have a bathroom or a kitchen. Those she shares with the couple living there. Such close quarters can of course cause conflict - but not here, Joseffa tells DW. Here, the chemistry works.

As it must, says Beata Bajda, who one year ago founded an agency in Germany called "Seniors' Anchor" (Senioren Anker). The Polish nurse arrived in Germany in 1988 and has worked here for 15 years. "The business idea is, for me, above all else, one-to-one care and maintenance - and not 'by-the-minute care' any more," she told DW. In her eyes, the best assisted living facility is a person's home, the best medicine is attention.

Those in need of care should therefore be able to spend their days at home, Bajda says. Such a service is unaffordable with German caretakers. Their Polish equivalents receive 1,100 euros ($1,520) after tax - triple what they would receive back in Poland.

Cheaper - and better?

Two women talk to each other inside

Beate Bajda (left) speaking with Marzena Wojcik

Fifteen women currently work in and around Bremerhaven, a North Sea port city, Bajda says. Among them is Marzena Wojcik, who in June moved in with Hermann-Klaus Mohlenkamp, where she lives in a self-contained part of the house.

It's lunchtime. Marzena rushes to help the 78-year-old. Alone, he wouldn't make the short walk from the sofa to his walker - and definitely not to the kitchen. For five years, every movement has been agony. His wife died in January. "At first I tried to go it alone," Mohlenkamp said. "It was a disaster."

In the kitchen, he stumbles, cutting his hand. German caretakers were always away when he needed them, he says. In a local newspaper he read about the "Seniors' Anchor" agency placing Polish caretakers in people's homes. He decided to use the service.

Beata Bajda does not have any staff, herself. "The women are employees of a Polish partner company," she says. That company is legally entitled to send its employees across the EU, she adds - "All legal, EU laws are complied with."

An elderly man looks inside a cooking pot while a woman

Mohlenkamp takes a peek at Wojcik's vegetable soup

Joseffa Gosse is in fact a trained cook. In Poland, she then became certified as a caretaker. She makes breakfast for the German couple, washes clothes, goes walking with them. She's simply there, watching, before her Parkinson's-afflicted patient could fall. Eight hours of care, eight hour of standby, and eight hours of sleep. Such is her work day. When an emergency crops up during the night, however, Joseffa of course gets up, would never say no.

Luxury or exploitation?

Some approved caretakers in Germany have accused Bajda of creating slave-like conditions for caretakers. The charge picked by Bremerhaven's press and which resulted in public debate of the issue. "That was the best advertising for me," she laughs. "But honestly, they see me as a competitor." Poland has been an EU member since 2004. Since 2011, the Schengen free movement agreement has been in effect. That allows Poles to settle and work in other EU countries. "We therefore have the opportunity to offer [assisted living] to the German market."

An estimated 100,000 eastern European women work in German homes in assisted care. Those taking them on pay roughly 1,800 euros monthly for the service, plus room and board. Insurance companies can chip in as much as 500 euros per month, but not everyone can afford the difference.

Mohlenkamp was a self-employed sailmaker who later sold his company. He has no children. His spacious bright house has high-quality furnishings in the living room, dining room and large kitchen. A pot steams on the stove. Today, Marzena's cooking vegetable soup. "Everything healthy, all natural vegetables," she says with pride.

Her boss sums up the service. "What we offer," says Bajda, "is a slice of luxury."

Though she may not follow the day-to-day activities of her caretakers or know that Marezena's soup is organic, the long-distance arrangement allows patients to stay home, away from assisted care.

"As you know," Bajda says, "You don't replant old trees."

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