We asked CNA Corey Rotella to write about her experience caring for people amid the pandemic. Her response was so compelling that we also created a video of her account. Following is an excerpt of her writing followed by a link to the video.
Memory care has always felt like home to me. The work is more of an art than a science…the art of knowing. In order to give the best care possible, we have to know your people. This is true in every area of caregiving, but especially when working with those living with Alzheimer’s. As we time travel with them through their memories, it is by knowing them that we can best assess their needs. Are they night owls? Do they need more one-on-one time? Are they hot or cold-natured? Do they come from a big family? All information that can help us navigate through their reality and recognize sudden changes in behavior. It takes time, patience, dedication, and a good team that inspires trust between one another and between the staff and those in their care. It is every bit as rewarding as it is challenging. I love what I do. It can be backbreaking and at times heartbreaking but it is never empty.
Working on a memory care unit where consistency is a vital component to the mental and emotional well-being for those in our care has become uniquely challenging. No visitors, no outside activities, eating meals in their rooms in an attempt to maintain some level of social distancing, and taking temps and checking the O2 stats each shift are all new rules being implemented as much as possible in an attempt to keep our residents safe and healthy.
The problem is, as well intended as these rules are, they come at quite a cost, and caregivers in most facilities are not being given the added support needed to fully and adequately implement these policies.
Isolation is not good for people living with Alzheimer’s. My residents are naturally out of sorts. Without daily interaction and mental stimulation, combative behaviors are becoming more commonplace. Sleep schedules are off because when there are no regular activities, many of my folks are sleeping more in the day and staying up through the nights. Fall risks are increasing. I have much less time for one-on-one interaction. The normal troubles in the long-term-care system have suddenly all been exacerbated and none of us have had time to process it. The end result is what we are seeing play out in the news.
COVID It is running through our nation’s facilities in a terrifying way.
It is hard not to feel powerless. It is hard not to feel resentment at our low pay. It is hard not to feel fear because for us there is no way to do our job well with any kind of distance, social or otherwise. It is easy to get lost in all of those dark thoughts and to begin to wonder if you are doing any good at all. So much of it feels like we are sticking fingers in the holes of a dam.
The greatest frustration for CNAs is that we don’t feel heard. We advocate for those in our care. We know when they are off. We know what does and doesn’t work on the halls and too often this knowledge is ignored or brushed aside. In a crisis, there is nothing more important than clear communication and timely action. We need support. We need supplies. We need adequate staffing. We need to know we are not in this alone.
This pandemic cannot be treated as business as usual. Our career will always involve loss. We caregivers know that as difficult as it can be, death is a part of the job. We are there to assist our people in the last stages of their life. We hold their hands, comfort them, try to protect their dignity and improve their quality of life as they walk through their final years.
This disease is a different kind of beast. We live with the knowledge that we could transmit it easily to those in our care. We know we can take it home to our family. We know that the likelihood of us not being touched by COVID-19 in some way is slim to none. The psychological toll that takes is difficult to express.
For me, it hits in the quiet hours when I’m not at work or when I see what is happening in the facilities across the nation. It is incredibly sad and frightening, but it is not surprising. Facilities were not prepared for a situation like this. Caregivers are an untapped resource with a wealth of knowledge that could help management understand the best ways to calm the residents and make this difficult time at least a little easier for all involved.
All it would take is for those in charge to listen.
Here is a link to a full audio version and video of Corey’s response: https://youtu.be/fzDuFmHdY_o.
Rotella is a writer and certified nursing assistant (CNA) in the memory care unit at Champion’s Assisted Living in Wilmington, N.C.