Patricia McMorrow | 05.25.22
Paurvi Bhatt, a second-generation Indian immigrant and healthcare executive, became a full-time family caregiver for her mom, Rekha, in the final months of Rekha’s illness. While she will never get over the loss of her mom, Paurvi honors her legacy through advocacy for culturally inclusive care at home and workplace support for the work of caregiving.
Paurvi Bhatt is a daughter, second-generation Indian immigrant, family caregiver, healthcare executive and member of the board of directors at CaringBridge. As an only child, her work as a caregiver began at age 28, when her father was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. After losing her dad, Paurvi again became a full-time caregiver in the final months of her mom’s life. To honor the commitment and sacrifice of family caregivers, and also her parents’ legacy, Paurvi has become a strong advocate for culturally inclusive care at home, stronger incentives to ensure fair wage and quality employment for the healthcare workforce, and national paid family and medical leave. Here Paurvi answers three questions about her experience as a caregiver, the needs of immigrant caregivers in the U.S. health system, and how she balances cultural values as a second-generation South Asian immigrant with a leadership role in corporate America.
- You and your mom shared so publicly throughout her health journey, including on her CaringBridge site. How does such an open approach square with some of the more traditional norms of South Asian culture?
My mom’s CaringBridge Journal became an important place for me to share what was happening with us. It also was a place for me to download frustrations with the care system, and to openly ask for help troubleshooting Medicare, long-term care insurance, home health agencies and hospice care. Using the CaringBridge platform vs. telephone calls and texts was an adjustment for our Indian community. There were concerns about being so public on a social network and also whether online support could ever be considered “real” support. While appreciating that the CaringBridge Journal could help us stay engaged and together, many in my parents’ generation were not comfortable offering help online. In addition, my mom had her own concerns about being so transparent, and I was proud of her courage to push past her concerns so we could share so much of our story. One clear example: In our community, offering and leaving food is the primary way we show support and love. But with more than 200 people following Mom’s journey on CaringBridge, it was unwieldy at times to manage so many requests to help. Another thing I became aware of is how our religious and cultural needs are not fully integrated into home care or end-of-life care. For example, as Hindus, it is important to have access to support from our temples, and sensitivity to the role our homes play in our religion. The existing end-of-life architecture, though, from care, hospice, funeral homes and crematories, is only just beginning to consider proactive integration in our community.
- How has your experience as a family caregiver informed your support for universal access to national paid family and medical leave?
I’ve been humbled by the support and care I’ve received from friends, family and colleagues, and I see the ways in which people and employers respond when someone needs care as a litmus test of values in action. I’ve had tremendous support and creative leadership across many parts of my career, and it seems clear that we need to make the workplace easier for family caregivers and their managers. Universal access to leave, healthcare and other benefits can help with this.
- Reflecting on your return to “normal life” after losing your mom earlier this year, what advice or encouragement do you have for those who are working and also working through grief?
Take. Your. Time. Allow yourself to move through the phases of grief vs. holding back. Each of our diverse cultural, religious and ethnic experiences are fundamental to how we manage grief and loss. There is no one way or one timeframe, and the process cannot be rushed, as much as we might try. I’m very upfront in sharing that my mother recently passed away and that I’m working through the next steps of my life. Since the pandemic and the elevation of racial injustices in recent years, it sometimes seems we try to move with urgency instead of pausing to absorb that everything has changed … perspective, focus, interests. We need to use this experience to create a culture that embraces the multitude of changes ignited by loss. To do this, we need to recognize that each of us has enough courage to open up, like my mother did on CaringBridge. This new culture cannot begin if we all remain silent and isolated. Each of us needs to take the first step to change.