As the US confronts a pandemic it was ill-prepared for, nursing homes’ front-line patient care workers are the heroes and sheroes. The country’s lack of a Czar to steer the nation through this pandemic escalated the patchwork response to the spread of Covid19. Vulnerable populations were identified, but the agencies and people who care for them were not provided with necessary resources such as training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or guidance on how to treat them.
Nursing homes care for the most vulnerable populations—our frail elderly mothers and fathers with dementia, chronic health conditions, physical/mental disabilities, as well as the elders who are the last living members of their family. The Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), activity aides, housekeepers, cooks, and laundry service employees provide most of the face-to-face care for our frail seniors. Front line patient care is critical to the survival of the elderly during the pandemic.
I’m inspired by the nursing home’s direct-care staff who attend to my mother’s daily physical and emotional needs. Nursing home wages are slightly above minimum wage.
“Letting Go…”, the first article I wrote for Garden Spices Magazine, chronicled the ultimate decision to place her in a nursing home. Granny, as we’ve called her since her first grandchild was born, is still a resident at that nursing home. From her earliest days there, she’s been surrounded by a core group of direct service staff. She’s been blessed. Even amid four years of staff turnover, her core group knows and loves her.
All essential front-line workers are providing heroic service; however, this article focuses primarily on the role of the Certified Nurse Assistants. What makes them special is they understand the risks and perform their duties anyway. They are a calm presence during the pandemic. CNAs assist patients with toileting, bathing, and dressing. These repetitive tasks must be repeated throughout their shift. CNAs are assigned multiple patients, so even with protective gear, they are touching soiled clothing and attending to ill patients. They are expected to smile through whatever personal pain they might be experiencing and manage the behaviors of frustrated or difficult patients. Because the dining room is closed, CNAs assist with serving meals and snacks and coach reluctant residents to eat. They respond to the residents’ numerous questions about why they are restricted to their rooms, unable to have visitors, or participate in the group activities with their friends.
CNAs have children, spouses, parents, and loved ones. Children expect mommy to cook and feed them, play with them, and listen to their stories. Undoubtedly, CNAs worry about virus germs attaching to their clothing and being transmitted to vulnerable members of their families. I wonder how their school-age children are managing the school closures. Do they have Chrome Books at home to facilitate e-learning requirements? If they have multiple school-age children, how do CNAs manage to assist each one after working multiple shifts? Do they have enough room at home for social distancing?
Prior to the pandemic, my sister, Gwendolyn, and I visited the nursing home at least four days every week, interacting with staff and residents. We served as “extra helpers” during weekly BINGO games, Ice Cream Socials, and other times when an extra pair of hands was needed. Gwendolyn faithfully attended the Wednesday evening church services so that our mother could continue to participate in praise and worship.
While Granny’s short-term memory is whack, the core of who she remains constant. She hasn’t forgotten us or the most important people in her life. She still longs for her home in Rockford, IL, and her Allen Chapel AME Church family. The church services were the first activity eliminated when the nursing home implemented its Covid19 policies.
The state issued stringent guidelines for nursing homes. Nothing could be brought in from the outside. Granny’s very particular about what she wears. She asks, “do I look okay?” or “are these my clothes?” Right now, she’s relying on the in-house laundry service. She has a small refrigerator in her room. We can’t bring in her extra food and snacks: bananas, cookies, Boost, and pudding. Since then, we’ve had to rely on FaceTime, waving to her outside of her first-floor window, reports from staff, and one formal letter from the nursing home advising us of what’s going on inside the facility. Because we’ve been banished from visiting her, we are grateful Granny has her direct care workers. They’ve demonstrated over the past four years that she is a priority. They know her needs and will continue to care for her until this pandemic is over.
My grandson, Caleb, a freshman at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, visited Granny during spring break. His break was extended. Reporting the deaths of two staff members, the university closed the dorms and transferred all students to on-line classes.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.