A veteran healthcare professional at a nursing home in Monroe, Wisconsin, Lisa Gordon says CNAs lack adequate PPE and are in urgent need of support in the form of hazard pay as they take on longer hours to provide new levels of emotional support to residents who are unable to spend their last final days with family members.
“Every day that I walk out my door and go to work, it’s stressful,” Lisa said. “Mentally, it’s more stressful for me. When I’m home I’m exhausted because I’m doing double the work that I was doing before.”
This additional work takes form not only in longer shifts and additional precautionary health routines; Lisa and her co-workers at the nursing home have taken on tremendous responsibility in providing emotional care and support to their residents.
“Being with the residents takes more time than what it normally would because we have to fill in for loved ones. We have to be there when they are afraid or stressed out. Everything that family members would do, we have to do it,” Lisa explained.
“Our residents don’t have anybody anymore but us. They are isolated from their families, their friends, their loved ones – everybody that they are used to being with,” Lisa said that the ban on visitors to nursing homes during COVID has weighed heavily on both residents and staff. “They can’t have family members, so we have to be a family member. We are taking on the part of being everything to our residents right now.”
As a precautionary health measure, these restrictions on visitors to the nursing home are not lifted, even when residents are in critical condition.
“I’ve got residents that ask me every day, ‘Are we ever going to get to see our loved ones? Are we ever going to get to see our families again?’” Lisa explained. “We’ve had a couple of residents pass away, and they’ve had to do it by themselves because their loved ones can’t come into the nursing home. So we are there holding their hands, doing all of this. Instead of their wife or their child, we’re there.”
The chronic stress of providing the end-of-life support usually fulfilled by family members has taken a toll on mental health of CNAs at nursing homes. This is stress is compounded by low wages, scant worker benefits, and inadequate supplies of PPE.
“We’re using the same gown all day long on one resident, the same mask for seven days for all the residents. That’s unacceptable,” Lisa said. “We need better pay, better health insurance. We are fighting for hazard pay and for paid insurance through the Heroes Act. We’ve signed a petition, [but] my employer has ignored that.”
“It’s very stressful. And, I don’t get a choice of what I do. It’s what I’ve done for the last 24 years and I love my job, I love taking care of people. It’s not easy right now; a lot has changed in the past three months. No matter what, I will keep doing my job as if it were me being taken care of when I get to that point,” Lisa said. “But I hope things change. We need to figure out a way to get our nursing homes back open for our residents to have their family and loved ones.”