Dr. El

I’ve been a psychologist in long-term care for well over two decades and, while there have been some challenges to my enthusiasm over the years, I’ve remained largely content with my career direction. Despite distressing times of late, there are many reasons I continue to don my PPE to sit at the bedsides of those in need of emotional solace. 

Here are eight of them:

  1. From the moment I walked through the door of my first nursing home, I stopped taking my good health for granted. I’ve been mindful of this blessing every day for years. Of course, now I’m acutely aware that by going to work I’m risking the gift of my health. Given the exposure I’ve had between my professional and personal lives, I probably had COVID-19 and didn’t realize it. If there were accurate, accessible antibody testing and information, it would reduce my stress level and perhaps allow me to see my own aging parents. In the meantime, my colleagues and I will visit with yours.
  2. My teammates are some of the most dedicated, compassionate people in the world. Individuals drawn to work in long-term care despite its lack of glamour and relatively low financial compensation are those that, like me, are in love with elders. My coworkers have the ability to recognize the charm and strengths of each resident and to focus on the most important aspects of life. Plus, my teammates are an international crew, immeasurably enriching my perspective with their experience. 
  3. Psychology services are needed now more than ever. I’ve always known how valuable my psychotherapeutic presence has been to my patients at the nursing home, but this crisis has exponentially increased mental health awareness at every level. With a worldwide pandemic, everyone has some measure of stress but for employees on the front lines in hard-hit areas, psychological first aid is essential. I described the stressors in this article so that people outside the industry can understand what LTC workers are going through.
  4. Talking to residents offers a living history lesson that puts the pandemic into perspective. It’s always been interesting to learn about life from those who have lived it, but in the middle of this crisis it’s been helpful to speak with people who have survived many crises.
  5. Even though I’m wearing frightening PPE, the residents are still glad to see me. My pre-coronavirus patients recognize my voice, eyes and mannerisms. New residents look at the small ID photo I show them “to see what I looked like before all this craziness began” and they smile (even when the picture is a blur because they lost their eyeglasses in the hospital). Their acceptance of helpers encased in PPE is an example of the human resilience I see everywhere in this tragedy.  
  6. I can be part of the solution. Most aspects of this situation are out of my control, but I’m grateful I can make life more bearable for those who are in the midst of physical and emotional turmoil.
  7. Industry people are speaking up about the shameful way nursing homes have been left to handle a devastating pandemic. It was clear in late February after the disaster at The Life Care Center of Kirkland, in Washington, that the virus was particularly lethal for elders in congregate settings. Rather than directing resources to prevent further loss of life in other facilities, the response was to skewer the Kirkland center in the press and to fine them $600,000, all but ensuring that nursing homes around the country would try to manage an impossible situation on their own. Thank you to Mark Parkinson, Bill McGinley and others who are using their positions to stand up for all nursing homes, even when some facilities have handled things badly. Thank you, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, for the new mandated reporting guidelines that will reveal that this is not an individual nursing home inadequacy but a societal problem.  
  8. Rachel Maddow is on my team. She’s on yours too. If you haven’t listened to the MSNBC host discuss the way in which Ireland is handling COVID-19 in nursing homes compared to the United States, you can find the six-minute segment here. (Thank you, Rachel Maddow! You give me hope the cavalry might arrive.)

For all of those working in LTC during this nightmare, have faith. At some point the COVID-19 losses and admissions will stop. We will be able to properly mourn the deaths of residents, staff members and loved ones, the destruction of communities we’ve worked hard to build over years and the inability to give a friendly hug to an elder in need. 

And one day in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to sleep through the night once again.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition and a Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.