Gary Tetz

With a pandemic continuing unabated, and now hurricanes, floods and wildfires ravaging large swaths of the nation, I don’t know how many more apocalyptic horsemen the long-term care profession is slated to face or can withstand. 

Out here in Oregon, where the flames still rage and the air quality danger falls somewhere between breathing asbestos and glass, it’s been a particularly trying and desperate week, to say the least. 

Many facility employees have lost their homes, and many others who live in evacuation zones where the flames continue to rage are still awaiting news, and fearing the worst. Still, amidst all the continuing fear and tragedy, as we wait in vain for rain that seems to always be a day away, tales of heroism from this profession abound.

Yesterday I had the heartrending privilege of talking with one of those whose home has been destroyed, a nurse who lives on a small farm. With the church next door on fire and embers flying in the wind, she and her family had little choice but to make their escape. They packed a few things and drove between flames on both sides of the highway, then slept in the car in a box store parking lot.  

Despite the harrowing ordeal, and without yet knowing the fate of her beloved home and livestock, she still showed up for work the next morning. At the end of her shift, with the campus in increasing jeopardy and buses idling outside for a possible evacuation, she refused to leave, and even slept at the facility. “It’s where I needed to be,” she told me. “Caring for my residents is what I do, and I didn’t want them to be afraid.” 

“Through it all, she didn’t miss a minute of work,” said the facility administrator, with awe in her voice. “While her own home was burning, she stayed on the job literally day and night to help protect our residents. That’s a true hero.” 

That brave nurse wasn’t alone in her commitment. She’s just one of this tragically large group of long-term care staff who, while losing everything in the fire, still continue to give all their incredible energy and compassion to those in their care. 

A fire may have taken their homes, but there’s one thing it can never destroy — their love for their residents and colleagues, and their passion for service. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.