Caller Times: Forum: A year look back on caring for seniors during a global pandemic

May 7, 2021

We will forever be bonded together as a band of frontline care providers for the most vulnerable population during a sweeping pandemic. The frightening, invisible enemy that can be in us with some exhibiting no symptoms and others being brought to their last days made its way through our Corpus Christi community, our state and the world.

Skilled nursing communities were initially vilified at the outbreak of COVID-19 as if the virus started in our buildings – not as if it walked through our front doors – which is of course, what happened. Heroes have emerged from this war on our public health. I work with many of them.

As frontline long-term care providers, we juggled daily, sometimes hourly, changes in guidance from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and our state health department. We went from homemade cloth masks, to surgical masks to N95s. In order to keep our residents safe, we had to be safe. In order to keep our families safe, we had to distance ourselves. For months, there was a heightened sense of fear.

We had to shut our residents off from the world and isolate our team members to protect them. Not everyone was prepared to deal with the emotion that accompanied such drastic but imperative measures. I witnessed a deep and abiding commitment from my team of skilled care providers – no one left for another job. Not one person quit.

We created relief rooms for team members to decompress, unload and switch gears before going home. We were battling COVID in the skilled nursing community and we were also battling it at home. I never saw resignation but I did see mental and physical burnout. We created a buddy system that paired team members who would frequently check-in with their buddy to ensure their emotional and mental foundation remained solid. I found that we could catch exhaustion and fatigue before it got worse.

Eventually, we got into the comfort of the unknown.

Last May, Gov. Abbott mandated testing in every skilled nursing facility in the state. Even though there had been a calm in the storm in our community – we had a collective anxiety. We thought we were virus-free but we knew many people could be asymptomatic.  Every one of our team members tested negative that day. The moment I announced the result, my staff erupted in applause. The results said, “What I’m doing is working. What I’m doing is right.” People cried. I went into my office and cried.

Then it was Game On, we’ve got this – let’s go. The employee morale from that point on skyrocketed.

We had to maintain that morale and be creative so we planned virtual vacations. Last September was the kick-off in “Hawaii.” We played Hawaiian music, put up posters and dreamed of a tropical sunset. Both our residents and team members loved our escapes. We “visited” a different destination every month. We traveled to Cabo, Maine and Colorado and switched our Germany destination during the snowstorm to Alaska because … well, it seemed more realistic.

Corpus is a beautiful town and a deeply spiritual community. Our family members have been faithful to their loved ones in our care and understanding of our efforts to protect them through this uncertain time. We are grateful for them.

National Skilled Nursing Care Week is May 9-12 and while I always believe those who work in the service of seniors are extraordinary – after last year, that word takes on a whole new meaning.

As we move into a new and welcome phase of living life, I encourage our Corpus community to embrace those who choose every day to walk through the door of a skilled nursing community and do what they have felt called to do — through the best and the worst of times.


Read about our amazing Community from the perspective of our Focused Care at Fort Stockton Executive Director, Taniecha Grady-Bravo, on the Caller Times!