Assisted living caregivers reflect on tough pandemic
Disgruntled residents and exhausted caregivers are common after roughly a year of COVID-19.
Needless to say, it’s been a tough 12 months for caregivers in senior care facilities, nursing homes and assisted living communities since the onset of COVID-19 to American shores.
Caring for older adults can be challenging and intensive during the best of times, but during the pandemic these challenges took on new dimensions. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, adults older than 65 account for 16% of the U.S. population, but roughly 80% of deaths from the pandemic. Senior care facilities present a uniquely vulnerable environment and there are numerous cases of COVID-19 hotspots occurring in the confines of these institutions.
And that’s to say nothing about long hours, staff shortages, strict pandemic regimens, disgruntled residents, disgruntled families, disgruntled management and constant pressure that lingers minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. The end result is a lot of burnout, and caregivers are only now starting to breathe easier with pandemic restrictions being gradually lifted and vaccinations becoming widely available.
“Health care is mentally exhausting in general. It’s been mentally battering,” said Scarlett Langenfeld, the program coordinator at Central Minnesota Senior Care in Brainerd. “It started off, we were so appreciated by everyone, everyone loves the health care worker. Now we're completely burnt out. … Nobody wants to work in health care because there's no appreciation. For other companies, they just don't value their employees at all. They treat them like they're the problem and it's really frustrating.”
“It's been a really difficult thing,” said Sarah Peters, the executive director of Hills Crossing Senior Living in Nisswa. “It was really overwhelming for everybody at the beginning to stay on top of what was right and what's the latest regulation.”
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“The biggest hurdle has been our patients and our residents not being able to see their families for some time,” she added. “That was a big adjustment for them to not be able to see the people they were used to, especially in the winter it was especially hard. There’s certain times of the summer we were able to do outdoor visits, but our weather doesn't cooperate very well.”
The isolation can be brutal, whether it’s residents quarantined in their rooms and restricted from large gatherings, or if it's caretakers who can’t afford to leave the facility during times when staff shortages mean they’re all but living out of their workplace. Peters said Hills Crossing has, so far, been fortunate enough to avoid staffing shortages that have affected numerous companies throughout the industry.
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“We went through a really, really rough patch in November,” Langenfeld said. “Our facility, through a series of events, we came down with COVID hard. It was just a freak accident, so every single resident and almost every single staff got sick. So we were basically living here, and we went through absolute hell, but my staff, they work so hard and they lived here and took care of the residents. They're amazing. My staff are amazing.”
This isolation can even manifest in the smallest of ways, such as how masks create a barrier not only to the virus, but to many fundamentals of human interaction — particularly for people who may be hard of hearing.
“A lot of these guys are going crazy being trapped in here and their behaviors are out of control,” Langenfeld said. “They just don't have patience, they lash out more. They're sick of not having a normal life — taking out on us and we're getting burned out. I can hardly find staff at this point.”
“Honestly I miss that my residents can't see my facial expressions and they just struggle to hear us and understand us,” Langenfeld added. “They miss your body language and your facial expressions.”
“That has been really hard, especially because so much of our care is focused on personalized care,” Peters said. “As more and more people get vaccinated, and we can control the COVID numbers a little more, not having to wear those masks is going to be huge. It just brings our care back to that more personal level.”
Peters urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as falling COVID-19 numbers will enable senior care facilities to return to a situation where caregivers, residents, and families can have more peace of mind.
“One of the things we can't wait for is to get our families back together again,” Peters said. “We’ve chosen not to host birthday parties, which are typically a lot of fun, until it’s safe to do so. But, to be able to get people back together in a group setting and then have some fun and relax a little more, I think will be really, really beneficial to all of us.”
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .