It’s time to stop blaming nursing homes

Workers at long-term care facilities are heroes, too

EVERY DAY, thousands of caregivers report to work at nursing homes in communities across Massachusetts.  They do this because they value the chance to build a relationship with residents and their families not over days or weeks, but often months and years.  Simply stated, they derive joy from providing comfort.  They choose to spend their careers at nursing homes.

For these caregivers – mainly nurses and certified nursing assistants – in ordinary circumstances, each day brings a new set of challenges.  Residents grow older and more frail.  Some lose understanding of where they are or what is happening.  And all require skilled care, either because they cannot self-complete activities of daily living or because they are temporarily incapacitated and need rehabilitation in order to return home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the work of these employees much more demanding.  They are often forgotten in the midst of the greatest public health crisis of the past century, despite their role in caring for the most vulnerable of our family and friends.

The public equates the surge in COVID-19 patients mainly with hospitals, not nursing homes. While nursing homes across the nation were often ahead of the Centers for Disease Control in implementing new restrictions to keep residents safe, they were not prioritized by the federal government to receive the necessary resources and reinforcements.  In fact, when compared with their hospital brethren, they were undervalued.

Nursing homes have become the poster child of the pandemic, and are often reported on in a highly negative light – as if we are guilty of neglect or worse.  We are not the perpetrators of the pandemic; we are the victims.  The real villain is the virus.

News coverage of nursing homes overwhelmingly dwells on the negative aspects of the loss of life, rather than the actions of the workers to keep residents safe.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has called nursing home staff “the unsung heroes” of this crisis, and he is right.

The human toll carries a significant and heavy burden, especially for those who have dedicated their careers to care for residents. These workers are not in any way celebrated for their incredible commitment – instead they are demonized as if they were somehow responsible for the virus-driven loss of life.

Seldom does a news story show a nurse or CNA crying after losing a patient or clapping when a recovered patient goes home, but it happens in nursing homes across Massachusetts every day. Our caregivers bear the enormous burden from the grief of losing the person they care for, which very often is more than merely a resident; it is a friend.  They know their background and interests and often their family members.  No matter the grief, nursing home employees are professionals, and they must compartmentalize their emotions as they soldier on, tending to others with or without this illness.

We are fortunate to live and work in a state that seems ahead of the curve in this crisis, and has stepped forward to provide the resources needed to weather the storm.  Without the support of the state government, we would be contending with a far bleaker situation.

It is time to stop blaming nursing homes and their workers for the number of seniors infected with COVID-19, but rather recognize the incredible effort of our workers to help residents recover from this illness, all while helping families to stay connected and letting residents know they are loved.  Because family members have not been able to visit since early March, our employees know the burden to provide added companionship has fallen on them, and they have risen to the challenge.

Meet the Author

Chris Hannon

Chief operating officer, Pointe Group Care LLC
Heroes are everywhere during this pandemic.  They are the first responders; the physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists at hospitals; the pharmacists ensuring vital prescriptions get filled; and the supermarket clerks and delivery people that make sure we get food and key supplies.

Heroes work in nursing homes, too, and it is time to recognize them.

Chris Hannon is chief operating officer of Pointe Group Care, LLC, a private, family-owned and locally managed senior living and rehabilitation provider based in Norwood.