Honoring Caregivers during Aging Services Week

Cheryl Harding and Randall Johnson

Throughout the pandemic we often hear about healthcare heroes. A few months ago, we heard about them almost daily. There were signs, banners, extra meals brought in, news articles, and massive amounts of public appreciation. Health care workers were celebrated in a way they hadn’t been before.

Why did it take a pandemic for the world to realize their dedication and value?

As we celebrate Careers in Aging Services Week (April 18-24), for careers in long-term care, we are reminded of the thousands of aging services employees and families working in various for-profit and nonprofit retirement communities and nursing homes. 

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In long-term care we believe our care teams were certainly heroes long before the pandemic. We have witnessed firsthand how people who choose to work in long-term care are courageous beyond words and have superpowers unlike any other. Their superpowers are easy to spot, even without a cape. Patience, compassion and empathy are three superpowers to name a few… there are many, many more.

For the nurses that choose long-term care as their life’s work, we have a special admiration. Over the years we’ve learned there is a sort of reputation for long-term care nurses and CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) – that seemingly they are considered “less than” if they choose to work in long-term care.

This incorrect assumption needs to be talked about and changed. Long-term care nurses have amazed us long before 2020. They not only care for the residents’ symptoms, but they also care for the whole person and their close families, too, each and every day… from days to months to years while residing in long-term care. They are advocates, counselors, friends, healers, companions, and they love the residents…. all day, every day.

This didn’t just start to happen during the pandemic. Sure, the stakes were higher and there was more pressure, but the work – the heroic work – never changed.

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When clinical and staff leaders come to work in long-term care, we see in a very magnified way how patient they are and how empathy is a key characteristic. They are leaders. They mentor, guide, and help not only the residents but also the entire team they work with every day.

The team in long-term care is made up of residents, families and caregivers… many individuals of all ages and life experiences. For all of us, being a caregiver is the first job we ever had –whether caring for siblings, class pets or those who are precious to us.

For professional caregivers each day brings schedules, professional expectations, and people other than their own families relying on them for the most intimate of needs. Long-term care caregivers were heroes long before the pandemic.

Certified Nursing Assistants are the Wonder Women and Supermen we should be celebrating every single day. We can’t wait for the day we see scrubs, tennis shoes and gait belts as the #1 costume to dress up for Halloween! Caregivers should be celebrated always, admired often and thanked every day.

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Often Certified Nursing Assistants are in school while they are working, as some are pursuing a career in nursing. What better training ground to learn how to make a difference in someone’s life. They can start doing that well before they become nurses.

In long-term care you have the pleasure of being the one to make someone’s day every day. We’ve seen caregivers go out of their way when they have many tasks to complete to sing, dance, bathe dress, laugh, hold hands, braid hair, hug, cherish and most importantly, listen. They do all of this as residents sometimes find themselves in the most vulnerable state of their lives. If this isn’t a hero, we don’t know what is.

In our field there are plenty of other heroes involved. A support team that makes sure things are just right. The West Center is clean, the food is nutritious. They make sure residents don’t live in a facility, but in their home. Making sure all the simple pleasures are available. They do this work all while making sure residents feel loved and special.

We’ve seen housekeepers develop the most meaningful bonds with residents. They know them and take time to hear the little important things. They have inside jokes, and they make sure everything is just right.

During the pandemic they also had added responsibilities, but we would offer they took their jobs just as seriously before 2020 and, for that, should also be appreciated!

The healthcare heroes we all admired in 2020 aren’t going away. They have always been here and will always be here to support aging Texans. Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that we start to recognize their passion and purpose as a calling that only a certain few can answer.

Only a special chosen few have the heart it takes to work in long-term care and aging services. They should be revered, admired, and appreciated by all.

The team we are privileged to support consistently put others’ needs before their own, and the pandemic continues to shine a light on that, but they didn’t need the spotlight to be stars. They shine bright even when the nights are dark, the clouds arrive, and the world moves on.   

They were heroes long before the pandemic and will be long after. Today and always, we celebrate the colleagues who answered the call to serve aging Texans. May the work that they do be appreciated, remembered and treasured.

Cheryl Harding, CEO/President-James L. West Center for Dementia Care

Randall Johnson, Chair-James L. West Center for Dementia Care Board of Directors, Shareholder, Harris Finley Bogle