Alex: Life as a Care Worker
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
It is no surprise that healthcare workers account for 19% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The job has taken a severe toll on both their physical and mental health. The nature of their work coupled with the lack of PPE means they face a much higher risk of infection than the average person. Many healthcare workers have been experiencing severe exhaustion due to working overtime. A lot of them have also had to isolate themselves for the safety of their family members and friends, disrupting their social support system. This has raised a lot of questions regarding the state of hospitals- whether or not the government has provided them sufficient medical resources or PPE, whether or not they are understaffed etc.
While there has been much public discourse about the state of hospitals, long-term care facilities seem to have been forgotten, despite being a driver of COVID-19 deaths.
Those who reside or work in long-term care facilities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic with the deaths of residents and staff members accounting for almost 40% of all COVID-19 related deaths in America.
Here is the story of Alex, a student who works in a long-term care facility which takes care of low-functioning residents who are unable to meet their families or partake in traditional activities.
The staff members have been required to wear their own face masks for the safety of their colleagues and the vulnerable residents at the facility. Apart from that, no other PPE is required. Isolation procedures are also put in place so as to reduce risk of transmission. Anyone who travels to the hospital is automatically placed under isolation for about 10 days. The staff members are required to wear a “gown, medical face mask, gloves and potentially a face shield/goggles" when tending to anyone placed in isolation.
Despite the safety precautions put in place, a few of Alex’s colleagues were diagnosed with COVID-19. They were put on medical leave but must use their paid time off. If they call in sick more than 3 times in 3 months, they face a high possibility of being fired for a situation they have “no control over”.
Although no resident has been reported to have the virus so far, the facility is preparing a special COVID-19 unit for the instance in which that is the case. As the building is made up of multiple units that are separated from one another,one unit will be evacuated while the residents will be spread out in other units. The empty unit will be used for those who confirmed to have COVID-19. Initially, the staff members living with immunocompromised individuals were exempt from working in the COVID-19 unit while other staff members had the option to opt out.
"It’s no longer volunteer and they don’t care who you live with. Many of us will quit if we are put on that unit. We love our residents a lot and have close bonds, but I personally have a weak immune system and can’t take that risk."
However, it is no longer on a voluntary basis. Since the facility is understaffed, it was decided that staff members will be assigned to work in the COVID-19 unit without their health considerations being taken into account. Although the staff members have close bonds to the residents, taking care of someone with an infectious disease is not a risk many of them are willing to take, especially those who have immunocompromised people living with them and those who are so themselves. Alex, herself, has a weak immune system and feels disappointed with the management for failing to take sufficient actions to protect the workers. Furthermore, the staff assigned to work in the COVID-19 unit would not be receiving any pay rise or additional benefits. Alex noted this to be particularly alarming as nearly every other nursing home in the area was providing a pay rise to its staff to work at all, much less in a unit designated for COVID-19 patients. Overall, she feels that although the management has implemented sufficient measures to ensure the safety of the residents, there has been a lack of regard for the safety of workers.
"As a student and a healthcare worker this has been tough. I’m failing most, if not all of my classes. I hardly get sleep. I haven’t done homework in so long. I’ll probably have to repeat this semester which I can’t really afford financially"
As a student and healthcare worker, the period has taken a toll on both her physical and mental health. She's been severely exhausted and sleep-deprived, struggling to balance between work and her studies. She is currently failing most of her classes and is worried that she will likely have to repeat the semester, which she can't afford financially.