COVID-19 has devastated long-term care homes across the province, and VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) is working with hospitals and other organizations to relieve understaffed and overwhelmed facilities. Many VHA personal support workers and nurses were among the first to willingly begin working in long-term care (LTC) homes to support the hard-working LTC staff and help address this crisis.
“‘We’re all in this together’ is a well-worn phrase, but at VHA, it’s how we see our role in health care all the time – not just during a pandemic,” says Carol Annett, President and CEO of VHA Home HealthCare. “There were no questions asked when the first cry for help came from our LHIN partners who were doing what they could to respond to the tragedy unfolding in our long-term care homes, except, ‘what is most needed, when and where?’ – and our remarkable teams jumped in to make it happen.”
“It takes courage and confidence to voluntarily ask to be deployed into an outbreak,” added Sandra Tedesco, Registered Nurse and Regional Director of VHA’s Toronto Central Team. “I’ve heard stories of commitment, sadness, hard work, disorganization and frustration,” she noted. Here are a few of those stories.
Akil Ade, a Registered Nurse and Best Practice Supervisor at VHA, had received calls for his team to help support long-term care homes in his area and found himself at a standstill. “I just couldn’t spare any of my nurses. With so many people needing care, everyone was doing extra on-call and evening shifts to make sure our clients were seen,” he said. Though Akil hadn’t done bedside nursing in over five years, he had always kept up-to-date with his training and knew that he needed to step in himself. “I’m a strong believer that actions speak louder than words. I need to be willing to do the same things I ask of my team,” said Akil. “If they are stepping up and working tirelessly to support our clients in their homes during the pandemic, then I need to do what I can to help those in long-term care.” So, he put on his scrubs and joined the battle.
During the last four weeks redeployed in LTC, Akil’s patience has been routinely tested. Entering during a crisis meant that there was no time for training; understaffing has affected the quality of care, staff morale is low and there have been numerous resident deaths. On many occasions, no one has shown up to relieve him at the end of a long shift. “But, it’s the little moments,” said Akil. “Taking the time to massage a hand to calm a frightened and confused resident, gaining the trust and respect of a burnt-out colleague or finally convincing a resident to take their meds using a new approach. These are the moments that have kept me going.”
For personal support worker (PSW) Gidey Tewabe, after working in homecare with VHA for eight years, she imagined her own clients in a similar situation when the call for help went out. “I was upset and wanted to do something. There were already twelve deaths at the facility and a lot of workers were sick,” she said. Though Gidey’s family initially struggled with her decision, they came around. “My kids know me, they know who I am and that they cannot stop me,” she laughed.
Before the lockdown, many residents in the facility that Gidey was assigned to were able to do their own laundry, visit with friends and eat together in the dining room. Now, residents are isolated in their rooms, and Gidey appreciates that on most days, she may be the only person they see. “I am making a difference in this awful situation and helping people through such a difficult time. Personal support workers do so much more than bathing, dressing and feeding. You have to have heart to do this job. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone,” she said.
After 14 years as a home care PSW with VHA, Serkalem Amin started commuting an hour each way to work at a long-term care home last month. “It’s been a really challenging assignment, but I’m glad to do it. I just wish I could have been there earlier, before things got so bad,” she said. “It puts things into perspective. The residents are scared, lonely and depressed, and I get to leave every day and see my family—I can’t complain.”
Serkalem is so proud of her profession and is happy to see personal support finally recognized as a critical part of the health care system. “Before this virus, many people didn’t realize how much PSWs do and how important we are. I always knew because I see it every day in my clients’ homes,” she said.
“Hearing our PSWs and nurses talk about their triumphs over COVID-19 and the difference they know they are making gives me a warm glow, despite the realities of the pandemic,” said Sandra Tedesco. “Their dedication and hard work inspire us all to keep focusing on the right things to do during this crisis, including providing care where it is needed the most.”