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As a registered nurse at one of Florida’s many fine nursing homes, I worry that one of the saddest storylines of this wicked and deadly COVID-19 pandemic is how it will perpetuate the narrative that people in this country go to hospitals to be saved and to nursing homes to die.
I want people to know that their family, friends and neighbors who work in our skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers continue to show up every day to work in very challenging conditions in order to save lives.
And when we hear the dreaded words, "We have a positive case in the center," we all feel momentarily defeated, after working tirelessly to restrict visitors, screen our staff, increase our infectious disease protocols and comply with the many national, state and local guidelines rapidly coming at us.
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(Editor’s Note: Bay and Okaloosa counties each have two nursing homes where a case has been identified. Walton and Santa Rosa counties have one each).
As someone who has dedicated my life to long-term care, it devastates me to see our residents so anxious, even confused, about why their loved ones can't visit. We're working hard to keep them connected through FaceTime or phone calls — or even through a windowpane. But I can see and hear the worry of family members who are scared their loved ones will forget who they are if this crisis doesn't end soon.
Like all of us, our residents' lives have been turned upside down. Their daily trips to the dining room and planned activities have come to an end for their safety, and it saddens me that they've lost this time of fellowship and have to be distanced six feet apart from their friends. Just as difficult is that our words are muffled through mandatory face masks, and as caregivers we no longer have the ability to comfort them with a smile.
My fellow long-term caregivers and I have been on the defensive for almost two months now in this war on COVID-19. Yet we're still fighting to receive protective supplies because of a nationwide shortage. We are the warriors on the front line working to protect our most vulnerable, yet some of us must resort to wearing cloth masks donated by friends and strangers in the community. When do we get to be a priority?
We're making clinical decisions every day in consultation with local hospitals about the patients we're able to accept. We're setting up isolation units and dedicating staff to focus on those patients, because one thing we've learned with this virus is that it doesn’t always present itself immediately. So without universal testing, our residents and our caregivers will always be at risk and fighting this war with one hand tied behind our backs.
These are our challenges, and they are mighty.
At the end of each day, we all just want to go home and hug our families and pray for the strength to get through another shift safely, for the sake of our residents and ourselves. But lately, the unrelenting negative attacks about care centers and the dedicated individuals who staff them have been difficult to bear.
Shame on the uninformed outsiders looking in, judging us for what they think we are or aren't doing right — criticizing us, villainizing this profession I'm proud to be part of!
One day we will get through this crisis, and caregivers like me will still be here, taking care of your parents and grandparents — and maybe even you some day.
I ask that you remember that, and do your part to lift us up, not tear us down. Everyone I work with is a hero on the front line. They — we — deserve your support.
Tammy Hunt is a registered nurse who has worked in long term care for over 12 years. She is the director of Nursing at Whispering Oaks, a skilled nursing center in Tampa.