I’m the executive director of a nursing center in Denver. I started working here almost 44 years ago.
My mother was a registered nurse here. There was a day when there was no receptionist. The administrator was out for the week. My mother called me and said, “I need you to help us.” And I did. I answered the phones. Then the administrator returned and said, “I want to hire you. I heard such wonderful things about you.”
I started out as a receptionist. When I was 21, I did an administrator in training program and became licensed. I have been here ever since.
We’ve experienced a lot of lows and highs in the last 15 months. I would say the lows have been the emotional trauma experienced by the residents, staff, and family members. We had a COVID-19 outbreak that began in March 2020. The staff were afraid to work because we didn’t have enough PPE. We didn't know how the virus was spread. We didn't have any testing. My role required that I help find staff to take care of our residents, but I was afraid I was putting staff lives at risk as I was trying to talk them into working.
There was [COVID-19] guidance coming out almost every day from CDC, CMS, and our state. I would go home every night, read all the new guidance that came out that day, and type up to-do lists and checklists on everything we needed to implement the next day. Often, you would find conflicting guidance where the state would say one thing and CMS or CDC would say something else. We just had to do our best to interpret what we thought was the right thing to do.
There were also some high points. It became my role early on when we were having an outbreak to screen in staff. We were screening at the beginning of the shift and at the end of the shift. Because I didn’t want to use nursing time to do it, I volunteered to come in at 5:30 in the morning to screen out the night shift and screen in the day shift.
The silver lining was that I developed bonds with the staff that I never would have otherwise. For example, we had a new nurse. We were her first job as an LPN. She would tell me about how she couldn’t sleep at night because we were losing people. She was afraid to come to work, but she also wanted to be at work. The oath she took as a nurse was important to her.
I talked about how I didn’t sleep either. I had nightmares. We talked about what helped. We found we shared a love of tea. And there were times we would cry. To this day, she stops by my office and says, “How are you? Have you found any new tea lately?”
I’ve found it very personally satisfying when I’ve been able to make a difference in a resident’s life, a family’s life, or a staff member’s life. During the pandemic, I’ve made more of those meaningful connections than I’ve ever had in such a relatively short period of time.
There were many proud moments during the last 15 months, but one in particular comes to mind. We had a couple who were residents here. They were a very respected couple in their community. He was a pastor. Their family was a wonderful, supportive family and very involved in their lives.
I’d had a conversation with this couple at about nine in the morning. Later in the day, I heard they were both unresponsive.
This was early in the pandemic. We were able to allow the family to come in for a compassionate visit. I helped them with their PPE and escorted them to the room. I stayed with them while they visited.
Their daughter said, “I don’t understand how they could be talking in the morning, and now they’re this way.” They couldn't communicate. She would try to get them to take sips of water. They couldn’t.
We had a long discussion about their options. We can do testing if the doctor orders it. We can do an IV, but it’s not recommended. We can send them to the hospital.
At the time, the hospitals were getting full [of patients with COVID-19]. The daughter called and talked to the doctor. She chose to leave her parents here. The mother died within about three days. The father died a few days later.
We got a request [from a local media outlet] on the passing of these two residents. At that time, all the news stories about nursing homes were very negative. They were blaming the nursing homes for COVID deaths. Even though we felt we were doing everything according to the guidance we had, I was quite concerned.
The daughter called later and said, “I want to tell the news about all the positive things that happened at [the nursing center]. I want to tell people about how you respected my parents and their death. I want to talk about their years of happiness there and the good care they got. I want to talk about how special the staff has been to us.”
At the end of the news story, I talked about how we needed PPE. The very next day, a construction company we had done business with years ago brought us N95s and isolation gowns. They brought us all the PPE we needed. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders to finally have the supplies we needed to keep our residents and staff safe.