Senior living community workers deserve support, too

By Jennifer Sanders | December 30, 2020

Jennifer Sanders

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the world and our nation have cheered on our “healthcare heroes.” We have lent them our spirit and hoped that somehow it would help sustain them for the battle that they are waging. I share in these sentiments and am truly grateful for the men and women of our hospitals and clinics, our first responders and emergency teams who sprang into action.
While these heroes deserve every ounce of the praise and support they have received, it leads me to question why another group of heroes — the employees of senior living and nursing communities — have not been given the same. Instead, in many cases they have been criticized for the work that they have done.
Since the beginning of the crisis, senior living communities have been vilified by the news media, on social media and in the court of public opinion. They have become scapegoats for a virus that world-renowned doctors and specialists can’t contain, and somehow they have been presented as “failing” their residents for not being able to stop the virus.
Over the past 12 years, I have proudly served as part of the team of Catholic Care Center, a not-for-profit retirement community. I did not envision myself working in senior housing or even healthcare when I was working toward my marketing degree at Wichita State University. I didn’t have any experience with senior communities and couldn’t imagine why they would need me on the team since I am not a nurse (and probably not anyone’s first call for even first aid).
What I’ve learned during my time at Catholic Care Center is that senior living communities are one of the best kept secrets of our society. I don’t know anywhere else on earth that you can come and instantly have access to around-the-clock clinical care, restaurant-quality meals, better activities and programs than many cruise ships, opportunities to attend church and practice the faith of your choice, and make friends. The magic of senior living isn’t just found at Catholic Care Center — you can find it at many senior living communities around the area. The secret to our community and the others like us is that our employees have dedicated their lives to serving others, and they love what they do.
Now imagine a place like Catholic Care Center during a year like 2020. I can assure you that our team didn’t stop loving what we do, and we didn’t stop caring for our residents. In fact, that love and passion made us work even harder to serve our community.
We certainly had to change the way that we did things. Sadly, we were required by our governing agencies to limit the number of visitors allowed into our community. And so we became friends, families, caregivers and sometimes even the entertainment, all to keep the ship afloat. Everyone on the team, from our CEO to our nurses, dietary team, housekeeping and administrative staff found new and creative ways to support each other and those we serve. Unlike hospitals, our “customers” don’t stay with us for a few days or even weeks. They are likely in our care for years and that is a long time to maintain positive customer experiences and build upon relationships
This is likely not the story that you saw on the news. Instead of reporting all of the good that communities like ours are doing, the media choose to report how many people died from COVID-19 in a community or how many people were sick with the virus. While that may be part of the story, there are two things that are important to remember.
One: The unfortunate reality of our industry is that many of the people who come to live in our communities, particularly in long-term care, are there because they are already frail or have other health concerns and may be near end of life already. Two: People are dying from the virus at unprecedented rates. Many of the positive cases are community spread so it could be caught anywhere, but those businesses aren’t going to be featured as the top story on the evening news.
There are many heroes that have emerged during the pandemic. I would count among them students and teachers who have adapted to learning from home, families who have creatively found new ways to connect with each other, delivery workers who have seen their work load multiplied and somehow keep making it happen each day. But for me there are no greater heroes than those who dedicate their lives to senior living. The employees who work in the senior living communities in our area are bright, compassionate and energetic souls who choose to share their talents with the elders of our society. They have come together and supported each other in one of the most difficult times of any of our lives.
Jennifer Sanders is director of marketing/clinical liaison for Catholic Care Center in Bel Aire.