There has been no shortage of despair as the coronavirus pandemic has worn on, but amid the troubling numbers and searing images, something else has emerged, too — hope.
It is reflected in the tale of Mary Daniel, who after not seeing her husband for 114 days, took a dishwashing job at the Jacksonville memory-care facility in which he resided, so that she could look in on him while he was being treated for early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It is reflected in the bravery of Virginia Carrasco, who serves as a housekeeper on the COVID-19 floor in a Rhode Island nursing home, even though her diabetes, age and hypertension place her in an especially high-risk group.
And finally, it is reflected in the diligence of an Iraqi immigrant named Lubab al-Quraishi. A lab assistant in New Jersey, she travels each day to nursing homes throughout New York City to administer COVID tests to seniors.
That willingness to help has proven to be the case for so many ordinary people volunteering to do extraordinary things. They light a path through these dark times, ensuring by their example that all is not lost and giving reason to believe that better days do in fact lie ahead.
I have seen countless examples at The Allure Group’s facilities, one of them being the work of Kellyann Byrne, the Director of Concierge Services at King David Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Brooklyn. When the facility was on lockdown she served as go-between for residents and their loved ones, facilitating communication, making sure care packages were delivered and fielding questions from all concerned.
She does all this in addition to her regular duties — easing the transition of residents when they are admitted and discharged from the facility and regularly visiting with each of the 200-plus residents, to make sure their needs are being met.
“I just feel that I am their visitor,” she said. “I’m their daughter or their son. I’m their sister or brother. Whoever they’re closest to, I’m that person for them.”
The others mentioned above regard their duties much the same way. Carrasco retired six years ago from her home daycare duties, but is only too happy to serve as a housekeeper. She is forever dedicated to the residents and so continues to provide an essential service, disinfecting every surface in every room in hopes of curtailing the disease’s spread.
As for Mary Daniel, she reunited with her husband, Steve, on July 3. Their lives had been turned upside-down when the pandemic hit, as she had been in the habit of visiting him every day around bedtime to help him settle in for the night. Suddenly all nursing-home visits were banned by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Mary wrote DeSantis in hopes of getting an exception, but her entreaties went unheeded. And her window visits with Steve brought only frustration.
“He just cried,” she told First Coast News. “You can’t explain it to him.”
It was something of a godsend, then, when the facility in which he was staying unexpectedly offered her a dishwashing job, which she happily accepted. Though unconventional, it offered her the opportunity to be there for Steve and provide additional support for his care.
Other frontline workers have found themselves in a similar position, albeit while coming to the aid of complete strangers. Consider the aforementioned paramedic, Alanna Badgley, who was profiled in April by Time Magazine. Besides critical care, she also provides comfort to patients who suddenly find themselves isolated from their loved ones. At the time the piece appeared, family members were barred from riding along with their loved ones in the ambulance, and forbidden to visit them in the hospital.
It was left to Badgley and her colleagues to hold patients’ hands, mouth some reassuring words and otherwise “provide some level of empathy and humanity in the moment in which they are truly terrified,” as she told Time.
Badgley, and all those like her, are a beacon of hope during these tough times. They deserve our praise and our respect. But more than that, they deserve the necessary support to do their jobs well.
While at Allure we have prided ourselves in maintaining our supply of personal protective equipment, the nationwide PPE shortage has only become more acute, according to an August 22 CNBC report by 3DBio Therapeutics CEO Dan Cohen. That, he added, is the result of healthcare facilities’ budgetary shortfalls, providers’ drawdowns in the face of unpredictable demand and hospitals’ allegiance to certain providers, out of fear of fraudulent actors.
Cohen suggested that the solution lies with forming a Manufacturing Reserve Corps, which besides meeting a need for PPE, would also create jobs. He likened it, in fact, to the World War II-era War Production Board, which enabled factories to meet peacetime and wartime needs.
In addition, frontline workers need psychological support. A Columbia University study of healthcare professionals undertaken in April showed that staggering percentages of them report symptoms of acute stress (57 percent), depression (48 percent) and anxiety (33 percent).
Certainly self-care on the part of the workers — proper diet, exercise, sleep, etc. — is essential to their mental health. But so too are institutional measures, like the support groups formed at Columbia’s Irving Medical Center and the counselors made available to the staff at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Given our frontline workers’ extraordinary fearlessness and compassion, the least we can do is find the resourcefulness to provide the support they need. In these dark times, they represent a shining light, illuminating a path to what we all hope is a brighter future.