Not everyone is strong enough

When the Fort Dodge Messenger asked me to write this column to give readers an inside look at life in the long-term care field each month, I was honored. I thought it would be a great way to tell our story and celebrate silver linings in our work with all of the readers. True confessions, this is hard. Not hard like, “I’ve had a bad day” hard, but hard like, “How do we keep going?” hard.

I also promised myself I wouldn’t write a column to complain and vent, but rather a column to share an honest opinion and offer a true insider’s look at long-term care. The picture isn’t pretty these days; in fact, it’s getting even harder to find the bright side nearly 19 months into the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, workforce issues were a struggle. Today we are in a crisis situation. I don’t use that word lightly because crisis implies there is no answer. However, there is a solution. This solution isn’t one anyone wants to talk about because it will take everyone, EVERYONE, to help solve it. We spend much of our time researching and offering innovative and responsive approaches to retaining our great employees and to recruiting new employees. We have tried many approaches. We lay awake at night thinking about what we can try next and how we will roll it out. And then the question is how will we pay for it; we can’t pass along all the expenses to the residents we serve. Where will the funding come from? These are the questions with no easy answers.

So, the solution I referenced? Lift long-term care. It is that simple. Change your perception, change your attitude, change the way you think, stop with the jokes, lift all long-term care workers up. Nurses, certified nursing assistants, caregivers, dining assistants, cooks, transportation drivers — everyone deserves respect. Not just a simple thank you, but a deeper understanding of the toll and the pressure that we have all felt protecting lives. Attitudes do make a difference. This should be a cherished field. We are full of people with compassion beyond words. If we, as a society, don’t do something drastic now, people will no longer choose to work in long-term care. This is a worthy field. This is more than a field in which we change lives but our lives change because of this field. That my friends is our silver lining.

I believe the people that work in long-term care are called to do so — not all, but most. They come to work each day to care for and work with your parents and grandparents. We are tired. We are emotionally drained. Like other professions, the pandemic has forced many of us to re-evaluate our chosen profession. The difference? We cannot change our hours, we cannot shut down for a period of time; lives depend on us.

In most fields as an employee, if you test positive for COVID-19 a few people may be impacted. In our world, an entire neighborhood is impacted and residents may be unable to see their loved ones yet again. That is a pressure we feel all week, even more so two times a week as we continue to be tested due to Webster County’s high positivity rate.

Some have left the field and more will leave the field. And unless we all start to truly lift up long-term care workers, there is another national disaster around the corner. Who will care for your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? Or in case that hasn’t hit home, who will care for you?

Many of us in this field plan to go nowhere. We have answered the call and we are better people because of it, but it is going to take everyone to realize this is a field to be admired and appreciated more than we are today.

Julie Thorson is president and CEO of Friendship Haven.


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