Everyone dreads getting calls from their jobs on off-days, with the ominous fear that they might ask you to come in and that your guilt will get the best of you. When you really need this one day off, the guilt leads you to succumb to working another shift.
After working a long shift from 6:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. the day before in an assisted living home, I let that call go to voicemail. I tried to act as if I wasn’t on my phone, as if I had better things to do on my summer vacation, as if I wasn’t just sitting in my car after my trip to Starbucks. Immediately after, a lengthy voicemail entered my mailbox.
“Hello staff. Unfortunately, we have had two staff members test positive for COVID-19. We will now have to proceed with the following protocols…”
Immediately, a rush of remorse and confusion overcame me when I received this message. Do I know them? Did they work with me on the dementia resident side? Were they vaccinated? Am I next? Are my residents next? I begrudgingly got out of my car and headed towards my house, now scared that I got COVID-19, despite my vaccination status.
In the following days at work, I learned that I did not work with the people who tested positive. However, they were not vaccinated. As my coworkers and I discussed the newfound positive cases, I mentioned that I thought almost everyone here was vaccinated, because frankly, that's what I was told at my interview. My coworkers all awkwardly looked at each other in the break room, and two of them admitted that they also weren’t vaccinated.
I was utterly shocked. How could two people who cared about these residents put them in harm's way? From that point forward, I felt uncomfortable around them. It created an obvious and understandable divide between certain coworkers. In nursing homes, vaccinations are a matter of life and death for residents, and because of certain staff’s skepticism with vaccines, it could result in families losing loved ones.
I was even more confused as to why they wouldn’t require vaccinations from my coworkers. We work with one of the most high-risk groups. COVID-19 hit my facility hard in October of 2020, and many residents had passed away as a result.
It was insanely difficult to provide COVID-19 care to residents, specifically those with dementia that I worked with. Each time testing had to occur, my coworkers had to physically hold down my residents. They fought back and yelled as their noses were swabbed.
Worsening the situation, dementia residents are not required to wear masks, creating a dangerous situation in the event of COVID-19 exposure. And unfortunately, our facility wasn’t big enough to the point where each resident could socially distance. We had to keep residents together with mere portable cubicles of sheets between them, creating a highly transmissible environment.
When my facility underwent major COVID-19 breakthroughs in October, vaccines were not yet available. It’s impossible to blame the staff member who brought it to the facility. However, with the current widespread availability of vaccines, it seems unfair that something exists that could protect patients, yet is not being enforced.
A major stride was taken as of Nov. 4 with Biden enacting an executive order requiring all businesses with staff sizes of 100 or more people to require worker vaccinations. However, this executive order leaves leeway to people who want to be exempt for religious or health purposes.
While there remains shortfalls in the executive order in not detailing how corporations should implement these requirements as well as failing to outline repercussions if the legislation is not followed, this is one step closer to a safer America. A safer country for our senior citizens.
Requiring vaccinations across the healthcare field is an effective way to ensure proper care. This will decrease the rate of transmission and bridge the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. It allows workers to continue as a coherent team, protecting themselves and their patients from potential infection.
Celia Giles is a sophomore studying pre-nursing. Do you agree that all workers in assisted living homes should be vaccinated? Send all comments to Opinion@dailycardinal.com.