Who would have imagined the world as we have known it the past six months? Illness, fear, isolation, unanswered questions, sadness, and financial worries are just a few of the concerns that have been communicated to me by our clients and their families, students, and especially caregivers.
As a director of an independent, family-owned home care company and a certified nurse aid training school, I have found that more than ever, members of the community need each other during this pandemic. Our caregivers and clients, their families, as well as seniors in the community need information regarding medical support and guidance, assistance with childcare and resources for financial assitance related to housing, utilities and food. One of the programs that we offered at no cost to the student was the Personal Care Attendant Training. Through Governor Holcomb’s approval for a waiver to allow specifically trained staff to care for residents in nursing homes and residential care facilities, our Legacy CNA Training instructors have graduated approximately 800 Personal Care Attendants in just over 5 months. This allowed displaced service industry workers to find meaningful employment, but it also gave new purpose to their lives and to the residents in the nursing homes and assisted livings that they served.
Initially, our organization scrambled for PPE -Personal Protective Equipment – a term commonly known to healthcare workers, but that has become a household term. Our office wanted to ensure that we could care for anyone affected with COVID-19 while keeping our caregivers safe. Communication was distributed frequently amongst our caregivers and clients regarding updated CDC and government guidelines, disinfecting, and health screening, and supplies were delivered to our caregivers, as needed. Our employees needed the piece of mind that they would be provided the protection necessary to prevent getting the virus or spreading it to their families.
As health care essential workers, our caregivers have the heart of gold – their human compassion is what makes them exceptional caregivers. They were worried about their client and family, their children, parents, friends, and the list goes on. I will always remember one of our coworkers who was assigned to care for a COVID positive family. As we spoke on the phone, I could hear the exhaustion, worry, and lonliness in her voice – she missed her own family so much but wouldn’t leave her “COVID family” in need. Think of the sacrifice her children and husband made so that she could help a family who needed her support more than ever?
As the COVID crisis continued, we were found to be in the midst of the human rights movement, which has affected all of us deeply. As our caregivers endured these events, perhaps the greatest concern that has been shared with our office staff involves mental health. Our President/CEO recognized the struggles of our caregivers during this emotional period of medical uncertainty and social unrest and enlisted a Mental Health Professional/Mentor to provide a format via Zoom to allow our caregivers the opportunity to discuss their individual fears These sessions have given our caregivers the ability to express their concerns related to the COVID-19 and the social issues that surround us. Caregivers who are not able to attend during the scheduled meetings have the capacity to view the sessions via taped recordings. In addition to these sessions, communication between our office and the caregivers /clients have increased, usually via messages and letters giving updates on current recommendations.
In the past, our caregivers enjoyed events that brought them together for socializing, such as monthly birthday celebrations, but the pandemic changed that. Knowing how important this is to our employees, we promoted small group “in-person” training sessions such as our virtual reality modules related to dementia and hospice, both areas that our caregivers often see in home care. Another personal touch was continuing our “Back-to-School Supply Day” where we meet our caregivers one-on-one to provide them with the supplies that they or their children may need to start school. We have found that these “live” meetings, while maintaining our social distance and wearing masks, have made a tremendous impact on the caregiver’s mental health.
Until we are able to resume our “normal” routines, in the midst of this crisis we have stressed to our caregivers and to those family members caring for loved ones to follow the following to maintain their physical and mental health:
- FOLLOW HEALTH GUIDELINES: Ensure the health and safety of themselves and their family, by practicing the guidance set forth by the CDC, including handwashing, social distancing, health screenings, wearing masks, etc. Do not go to work sick and always report if a client or their family does not feel well.
- MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH: Eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of rest. This is so difficult for our caregivers and those family members caring for their loved ones – sleep deprivation is a reality, especially during this crisis.
- KNOW WHEN TO SAY “NO” OR ASK FOR HELP – we often ask caregivers to assist with a call-off or new client when they are already stretched thin with their children’s schedules and activities. We respect their need to take time to replenish their bodies and mind.
- BE NICE TO YOURSELF: Understand that when the stressors in your life become too much to handle, you need to take care of yourself. Examples may be exercising to a YouTube video, listening to music, watching TV, playing board games with your children – whatever they enjoy doing. Everyone needs a respite – even if it only a few minutes.
- STAY IN TOUCH: Now, more than ever, the caregivers need to stay connected to those support systems – family members, friends, church, and co-workers.
Until we all meet in normalcy again…..
Annie Lacy, RN Executive Director
World Health Organization: Mental Health Considerations during COVID-19 Outbreak
PUBLIC HEALTH: Caring for caregivers during COVID-19
Alliance for Aging Research: Caring for caregivers during COVID-19