When Family Caregivers Aren’t Allowed In

One of my students scheduled a Zoom appointment with me (because that’s what we do now, right?). She’s a freshman and she has a new job at a memory care community.

She wants to do a good job. She loves the residents. She has great questions for me about how to handle difficult situations. Have I mentioned she’s awesome?

But she’s overwhelmed. She is being asked to care for 15 residents at a time in the community’s common space after dinner. One has a problem with falling out of his wheelchair. She has to keep him in his chair (so he doesn’t get hurt) and also pay attention to the other 14 residents.

She knows they can’t belt him into his chair, but she isn’t sure why. I explain that it’s fire code. He has to be able to escape the building in a fire.

She wants to talk to the residents. She wants to spend time with them. She wants to get to know them. But she can’t.

She’s too busy making sure this gentleman doesn’t fall out of his chair.

She’s stressed. She doesn’t know how to tell her supervisors that it’s unrealistic for her to care for all of these residents at the same time. I tell her to speak up about her concerns…but she’s 18 years old. I wouldn’t have known how to have that conversation when I was 18.

I ask about the memory care’s current COVID visitor policy. I find out they are only allowed socially distant visits outside, but she tells me she’s never seen any of these visits actually happen. She’s not sure why.

And then I realize that, for the most part, these residents haven’t seen their families in months.

It’s not about having visitors. It’s about caregiving. When families visit nursing homes, they assist their loved ones with eating, personal hygiene, and other daily tasks. They spent time with residents–freeing up staff to look in on other residents.

My student doesn’t really recognize this. She didn’t work at this facility pre-COVID. She doesn’t know how much easier her job might be if families were able to hang out with their residents in the evening.

The facility needs to hire more employees to replace the unpaid work family caregivers typically do.

And I hope, I really hope, that my student can stick it out. She says her job is rewarding but stressful. I hope it’s rewarding enough to counteract the stressful…until the facility hires more employees or families are allowed back in.

She’s the type of person that needs to do this work. She tells me that when she leaves the facility at night, she’s mentally exhausted. She can’t focus on homework or even have a conversation with her boyfriend. I know that exhaustion comes from her desire to meet the physical, emotional, and social needs for 15 residents–at the same time.

She hasn’t exactly been set up for success.

I don’t want her to quit, so I encourage her.

I don’t know if it’s enough.

4 thoughts on “When Family Caregivers Aren’t Allowed In

  1. Do you have any pointers for somebody who is new to caregiving? He is a good personal friend and relatively able-bodied, but the limitations of Covid and physical activity, along with the effects of his meds, impose significantly on his daily activities and relationships. Thoughts on how best to help with his daily stresses and hold backs? Thanks!


  2. Your description seems as if you were standing in my shoes these past months. I cringe when I see my unkempt husband who refuses showers, hates to have his hair and beard trimmed, fingernails cut. I was able to get him to agree to some of those things and he let me trim his nails…when I was allowed in all these months ago. Last week I cheered and rave about how terrific he looked. Someone had trimmed his beard and managed to get him to shower. It was like my “old” husband, all those years ago to see him looking so spiffy. It’s hard, it’s all so hard. Thank you for writing this, Elaine..


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