By Alex Markowits
Under the best of circumstances, uprooting our mothers, fathers, and beloved relatives and trusting others to care for them in a new place is gut-wrenching. Those of us who work in senior care know well the fear, guilt, worry and anger that family members experience because we see it, soothe it, absorb it and accept it every day. We understand it because we have families, too.
COVID-19 is the most ruthless of ironies. The easily lonely must be made lonely to remain safe. Many of us chose senior care as our profession because we wanted to make life transitions more comfortable, safer, and less isolating for those who deserve our care and respect. Now we have found ourselves enforcing separation and isolation in the name of safety. It is painful for us, made ever more difficult by the appalling behavior of a few “bad actors” in our health sector, whose malfeasance devastated thousands and has unfairly implicated thousands more.
Without doubt, those who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and the negligence of “bad actors” deserve to see those enterprises held accountable. Those companies betrayed vulnerable seniors and families who depended on them. They also betrayed thousands of good people who work as frontline providers in senior care for admirable reasons and continue to put their own and their families’ safety at risk for COVID-19 infection.
As a senior care veteran, I want to assure those who trust loved ones to reputable senior care communities that COVID-19 has not beaten us. Nor are we the enemy to fear. COVID-19 is our shared adversary. We are learning more from it every day. Just as hospital workers are learning to save more lives, we continue to learn and implement new ways to protect our residents’ bodies, minds and spirits and improve their quality of life during an uncertain time.
As COVID-19 infection rates mount again, we in senior care are on high alert. But we are not panicking. We have rigorous safety protocols, staffing models, stockpiled supplies and communication and operational systems in place that did not even exist nine months ago. Facilities across the country have been mapped for window visits and patient cohorting. Staff are trained to protect residents and themselves, understanding their potential to be both vectors and victims of infection. Significant investment in technologies to support residents’ connections to families and caregivers has been made. We are attuned to signs of psychological distress and more committed to preventive measures than ever before.
We have learned. We are prepared. We want to secure your confidence and trust.
The media are crucial to keeping us informed through the pandemic and accountable to the rules that protect residents and govern our sector. But sometimes, especially when COVID-19 conditions are changing rapidly, news stories may elicit uncertainty or inadvertently sacrifice accuracy for speed or nuance for simplicity. To families with loved ones in senior care: if you read something that troubles you, call your senior care facility and ask about it. Please do not stew in fear or assume the worst. Engage your senior care professionals as allies in this fight.
To the media, I ask for similar care and good faith. Vague or inaccurate story details add to families’ stress and anxiety. This puts additional pressure on staff, who are working to maintain calm and stability for residents and their families — and their own families, too. I worry about senior care workers feeling demoralized, with a long battle ahead. We cannot risk dissuading talent from entering a health sector that serves a critical need. This would be COVID-19 getting the better of us, rather than trusting our ability to get the better of it. I am confident that together, we can.
In life and in business, I believe that opportunity is about creating solutions to problems. Viewed this way, COVID-19 represents tremendous opportunity. In health care, we already have seen collaborative efforts among providers, payers and health systems; technological advances; and beneficial policy changes that did not seem possible a year ago. This collaborative spirit driving collective effort must be grounded in trust. Trust that every one of us longs to feel safe and well, and assured that our loved ones are, too.
Alex Markowits is the founder and president/CEO of Spring Hills in Edison.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Here’s how to submit an op-ed or Letter to the Editor. Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow us on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and on Facebook at NJ.com Opinion. Get the latest news updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com’s newsletters.