WELLINGTON COUNTY – While everyone continues to battle the ongoing pandemic, long-term care workers are also battling for the opportunity to let residents see their smiles beneath layers of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“One of the things staff tell me that is very hard, because they have to wear the PPE, is that the residents can’t see them smile,” said Stuart Oakley, spokesperson for Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes Ltd.
Nursing staff at the Wellington Terrace Long Term Care in Aboyne also noted the pandemic has taken away the familial environment for residents.
For Ashley Switzer, registered nurse at Wellington Terrace, the residents are what have kept her motivated throughout the pandemic.
“Just knowing that they’re looking forward to see us and we’re looking forward to see them and coming to work knowing we’re all there doing the same thing and going through the same thing motivates me to keep going,” Switzer explained. “We’re smiling even though they can’t see it through the masks.
“It’s hard because the families can’t come in right now so we’re doing our best to advocate for them, keep them happy and follow the guidelines as best we can,” she added.
While Wellington Terrace has had no resident COVID cases to date, the Caressant Care home in Arthur experienced an outbreak that spread throughout the facility, affecting 57 residents and 63 staff, leading to 19 resident deaths. The outbreak was declared over on March 2.
“It’s heartbreaking. These residents become like their family because they are with them every day and to see them become sick, to see them pass away, knowing that they’re doing everything they can to not have that happen is heartbreaking,” Oakley explained. “It is really heartbreaking for them to see that happen and feel sort of helpless.”
Oakley noted that while long-term care workers are doing everything they can, the deadly nature of the virus is insidious and they have seen first-hand what it can do.
“It’s like what people may think of as a war zone,” Oakley said. “You have an unseen enemy that you don’t know where it can come from. Something as innocuous as a pen could be a potential source of a spread.
“We talk about the definition of a hero as somebody that runs into a fire, not away from it, and that’s what our staff are doing every time they go into a home, particularly when a home is in outbreak, but even if it’s not,” Oakley explained. “They’re going into a fire every single time.”
Oakley acknowledged the sacrifices that long-term care workers have had to make in order to be able to work in the homes and provide care to the residents, including isolation from their families. In some cases, these workers are spending several weeks away from their family, he explained.
“When we talk about healthcare heroes, they really are because day in and day out, [they are] going into essentially a dangerous situation with a deadly virus,” Oakley explained. “Being able to do that every day is incredible and of course it’s going to take an emotional toll.”
As a result, these long-term care workers have to be on guard at all times, Oakley added. This includes following protocols for infection prevention control, wearing PPE and having to change out of that equipment between every resident interaction.
According to Alyssa Culp, resident care manager at Wellington Terrace Long-Term Care, the pandemic has taken a significant toll on people emotionally and physically.
Culp noted that a large challenge for the long-term care workers has been the balancing act between keeping residents safe while still maintaining quality of life.
“I think that has a big impact on the staff emotionally,” Culp said. “Trying to maintain that balance and maintain quality of life for our residents while staying safe.”
Tricia Burrough, registered nurse and director of care at Wellington Terrace, noted officials recognize the pandemic has had a substantial impact on the staff. They are not only working to balance the demands of their work but they’re also having to balance the demands of what’s happening in the community and in their personal life.
Burrough added that while they are having to manage the increasing demand and stress, staff are still remaining positive amid the pandemic.
“They’re having to be so incredibly resilient in responding to all of the changes that are coming at them,” she said.
“So that takes a toll on their energy, but they’re doing it with such integrity and remaining positive in the midst of all of the changes that are coming at them whether they understand them or not.”
Switzer recalls the first day at work after the virus was declared a pandemic, the fear of the unexpected and the unknown circumstances heading into it.
“I remember that first day just having to wear a mask and not really knowing what the ministry wanted and how many residents were going to get it,” Switzer said.
Joanne Badder, personal supporter worker at Wellington Terrace, works as a behaviour support for the residents.
For the last year now, Badder has been battling the constant worry of taking the virus into the residence and not knowing she’s a carrier.
“It’s scary. It’s just shown me how vulnerable I felt,” Badder said. “Especially if one staff member tested positive, it just made you feel really vulnerable and that you could bring it in to our residents.”
Despite the increasing demands on the job, Badder noted she attributes her motivation to continue working during this time to the caring support of the residents she oversees.
“I’ve really felt that I’ve had a privilege. I’ve been very privileged to help them during this difficult time,” she said. “I truly feel like all of them are my family and that’s how we treat them, like our family.”
Culp added staff appreciation has been a big focus for Wellington Terrace. She also noted that encouraging conversations and communication amongst staff and checking in regularly is an important part of their work at the Terrace.
Burrough also noted many of the staff at the home have surpassed expectations in their work over the last year. “They’ve really exceeded [expectations] and found ways to just make this time as easy and as good as they can for their residents,” she said. “They know how tough it’s been so they put in that extra effort.”
“I think we can only continue to be amazed at people’s dedication, their compassion, their resilience and the creativity that they are showing in the midst of everything that we’re going through,” Culp added. “We continue to see just how much they care about the residents that they’re caring for.”