COVID in Nursing Homes: Perspectives from the Inside

One of my college students read a recent blog post I published on COVID and nursing homes. She works in a nursing home, and she shared some of her experiences with me. I asked if she might consider writing a blog post to share her perspectives. Here it is:

I walk into another day at work. 

The world just came to a STOP, the normal has just disappeared before our eyes. COVID was just announced and the uncertainty grew day by day. I greet my residents as I usually do with a smile and friendly hello, except this time a mask covers my face. My residents with Alzheimer’s don’t understand what is going on, and to be honest 6 months down the road they still can’t comprehend.  

Almost immediately their family was no longer allowed to come inside to visit them. Instead windows and electronic screens separate them. We work so hard to help their families communicate with them.  The residents only understand they can’t see their families in person.  

The only time family can come in and see their aging family member is if they are showing signs of dying. In this situation only one family member at a time can be in the resident’s room and they have to have a temp lower than 99.0 F. 

About a month into lock-down, the rules change. I go into another day of work again greeting them, except now I have to tell my resident no when they ask for a hug and I am supposed to stay 6 feet away from them when possible. As I am going through my shift, I constantly have to reassure my residents that their family loves them and that they didn’t forget about them. 

As the months go on, I have to remind them more and more their family still cares. Another couple of months into complete lock down, my Alzheimer’s residents barely recognize me with my goggles and face mask on. All group activities are ceased. 

My residents are telling me they don’t care if they get COVID; they just want human interaction beyond their care team.  At this time, I get a call from my grandpa (who I haven’t seen since COVID), said he just wants to see me, and he in fact didn’t care if he got COVID because he is just going to die soon anyways. 

This statement I have heard day in and day out since families weren’t allowed to see their loved ones. 

My residents are starting to give up the will to live as they can’t see their families or even friends they have made in the facility. About 6 months into lock down my residents can finally see their family, under these conditions; they are outside, at a table that is exactly 6 feet apart and stay 6 feet apart, no hugs or other forms of contact, and one family member at a time for 15 minutes.  

Well, after a visit there are lots of tears. They were not ready for their family to leave and they didn’t even get a hug. That didn’t last long as COVID cases skyrocketed. No longer able to see their family anymore my residents are more confused than ever, lonely and scared. 

Walking through the hallways my residents ask for hugs or come up to me and just hug me as they fight tears. (I do hug them back at times even if I am not supposed to).  

My residents are wonderful and try to stay positive, but sometimes it’s impossible and I don’t blame them. Supportive housing is fighting a losing battle. They want to protect the residents from COVID, and when they do so they have to fight Failure to Thrive. 

The toll of COVID goes beyond the residents, it hits families hard and the health care workers as well.  I see families fighting to see their loved one and tears streaming down as they hold their hand up to the window. We go in each day, not knowing what new rules have been added.   I don’t go anywhere without my mask and hand sanitizer. 

I may be missing out on going to college football games, parties or concerts so I don’t bring anything to my residents. That is nothing compared to what my residents are forced to sacrifice. I don’t complain because I have the freedom to go out and do whatever I please and I can see my support system. 

If you aren’t going to wear your mask for you, wear it for the health care worker so they can continue supporting their residents and also to reduce the overall number of cases, so my residents may once again see their family and resume simple activities the rest of us take for granted. 

-from an anonymous college health care worker

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