Being a Caregiver in the Time of COVID-19
First, thank you. There is so much we can say to express our gratitude to each and every caregiver out there but the best and simplest sentiment is thank you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a nurse, a care aid, a family member; whatever your role, however you’re helping: Thank you.
There are special concerns that caregivers have right now, given the state of the coronavirus spread and how rampant it has become in nursing, residential, and care homes. Over 600 seniors’ residences and care homes across Canada have cases of COVID-19 in both residents and caregivers, accounting for over one-half of all of Canada’s cases of coronavirus. One Toronto geriatrician went so far as to say that if he had parents in a seniors’ home, he would try to get them out. Recognizing that his statement was a bit alarmist, he later stated it was meant as a call to action for the Canadian government to further implement policies that would protect all of Canada, including our most vulnerable populations and those who care for them.
As noted, it is not only the residents but also the caregivers who are contracting COVID-19. With the level of burnout they already experience (25-65% of nurses already experience burnout) now pushed even higher, things aren’t getting any easier for caregivers at work. Many of the facilities are older, with 2-4 residents in one room, making the workload more difficult for caregivers, even in a simple task of negotiating space as they assist their clients in mobilizing or otherwise moving around. Never mind the fact that this makes it so much harder to isolate people. Staff are going their utmost but the data is clear that once COVID-19 enters a home, it’s hard to stop it from spreading. Sicker residents leads to a higher workload, and inevitably, the caregivers get ill, as well. Then, once you factor in missing staff who are off work and self-isolating at home or admitted to hospital, the situation at seniors’ homes becomes almost untenable.
Another factor weighing heavily on the minds of caregivers is the fact that they could also then unwittingly bring the virus home to their families. Despite what a good job each caregiver does in washing up after work, COVID-19 is sneaky and can live on plastic, fabric, and metals. The virus can easily find its way from the care home to the family home. Caregivers are having to self-isolate at home, away from their family members, not an easy thing to do, especially in small homes, with only one bathroom. The isolation and loneliness they may experience can further burden an already stressed-out careworker, perpetuating a stress cycle that further lowers their immunological defences, making them at higher risk for getting sick.
Thankfully, there are structures in place and plenty of ideas to help caregivers during this time of outbreak. If you are a family caregiver at home, your priority is to keep yourself healthy – mentally and physically; in order to be able to care for others, you first have to take care of yourself. It’s like when on an airplane, the flight attendants explain that you must put on your own oxygen mask before helping your dependents. The same logic applies to workers in care homes of all kinds. Professional caregivers need to ensure their own health and safety, often difficult given shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Canadian government and healthcare regulatory bodies are stepping up to do what they can to protect our workers, and workers are self-advocating, as well.
It’s a very difficult and stressful time for all of us right now. So, let’s be thankful, express gratitude to our caregivers across the country, and help ensure each others’ health and safety. Working together, we will get through this.