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A Nursing Assistant Worries About Spreading Virus to Residents and Family

Amy, a single mother who barely scrapes by, spends days shuttling between work and home

Back of a female nursing home assistant

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En español | Nursing home residents who expect Amy's hugs can't have them. When they search her face for a smile, hers is hidden behind a mask. She can't offer the comfort they deserve and need, the sort she's always given, because she's determined to protect them.

"Hurting one of my residents would be like hurting one of my family members,” she says.

Amy, who doesn't want her last name or her employer identified, is a certified nursing assistant at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 23,000 people who live or work in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Several cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Maryland facility where she works, and about 20 others who've been exposed are awaiting test results. So far no one there has died from the virus, as far as she knows.

Nursing assistants in long-term care centers help the most vulnerable tackle daily living. They wake, bathe and feed residents. They take them to the toilet, change their diapers and get them dressed. They apply their makeup, usher them to activities and remain a constant presence.

It's a job Amy's been honored to do for 23 years.

"I love being their eyes when they can't see, their hands when they can't touch and being by their side when others can't be,” she says.

The pandemic has made being there harder than ever. Residents with dementia can't understand her distance. But her faith and commitment to the people who depend on her keep her focused, even as she feels overlooked and underappreciated — not by her residents or their families, but by her employer and the public.

Those feelings aren't new; they've just become more glaring during this crisis, as others are being celebrated. Amy, a single mother who barely scrapes by, has always known that doctors and nurses get all the credit. But she and her fellow certified nursing assistants spend the most time with patients, do the groundwork and know their worth.

"We're the ones wiping the tears from their patients’ eyes, holding their hands while they're dying or reading to them before they go to sleep,” she says. “We know their favorite outfits to wear or how they like their hair brushed because we do it.”

Shortages in personal protective equipment in hospitals grab headlines and prompt action, but Amy must wear the same surgical mask every day, tucking it into a brown paper bag at the end of each shift for safekeeping. Unless it tears or gets visibly soiled, it won't be replaced. Same goes for the N95 mask she wears when around residents with COVID-19.

She's as vigilant as she can be, staying healthy and clean while refusing to shop and rarely going beyond the nursing home or her own home. She worries about the physical and mental health of her residents, who aren't responsible for the viruses introduced by others, including physicians, administrators and delivery drivers.

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