Being a CNA During a Pandemic That Targets Our Senior Citizens

COVID-19 has made its way to affecting all our individual lives and it has been about a year since Fort Collins saw its first-ever case. It is no secret that nursing homes and senior centers have immensely struggled, nurses and health care workers have been at the front of all the devastation and mania it has caused. While our local seniors have had a really difficult time managing this pandemic, frontline workers have put in hours and hours trying to keep themselves and these seniors as safe as humanly possible.

Good Samaritan Society in Fort Collins, Colorado

Lindsey Caballero is a certified nurse assistant at a local senior home, Good Samaritan. Her mother is a full-time nurse, and she assists the seniors one-on-one and accompanies their needs as well as keeps them company during this period of isolation. I was able to meet with her and discuss working alongside senior citizens during a deadly pandemic.

Q: What are some of your responsibilities working as a CNA in a senior living facility?

A: I keep an eye on the residents and always make sure they are safe. I help them with their daily activities. So, when they need the bathroom, I’ll get them ready, I’ll help shower them, and sometimes I’ll feed them. I also like to keep them company. I see about 21 residents per shift and sometimes more to help out around the facility.

Q: Can you explain what it’s like now being a healthcare worker in COVID? What are some things you must do now to follow protocols?

A: I must get tested every week now. I also was luckily able to get fully vaccinated but I still get tested. I wear masks and in certain places, I must wear more protective equipment. Now, I guess you could say there is a new fear of giving [covid] to them. I also feel bad because [the residents] are isolated in their rooms still and can’t have family visit them at this time because they’re the most likely to bring covid in. There’s also been a lot of staff shortages and getting people to work. But the census is low right now since we’re not getting as many new residents these days.

Q: Can you describe some of the biggest challenges your medical staff has experienced/been experiencing?

A: Definitely adjusting to gearing up for every shift. The staff has had to deal with a lot of extra baggage because of how hard the job can get. My mom who is a full-time nurse here has sometimes worked two weeks straight without a day off. There has been a more wasteful material too. Like having to gown up and down and throwing away so much stuff depending on where you’re working too and how much gear you have to wear.

Q: Aside from what you mentioned, are there any other restrictions in place for the residents?

A: A lot of them aren’t allowed to leave their rooms. Some of them can if they wear masks, they can go to the living room. Some of them who are lower risk can have family visits but only a very select few residents can see them. But [for the majority] the only time they can leave is for hospital or doctor check-ups and when they do go, they have to stay on a different side of the facility to be quarantined for two weeks. For married couples, we try to keep them together but depending on their health sometimes they are separated. Or if one needs more attention or a certain setting than others, we do what is best for their health but overall we try to keep them together. Most married couples though have been separated at some point or another.

Q: How have you guys handled outbreaks of COVID-positive residents?

A: When we have them, we block off our entrances to the building for our positive residents and put up these little tent walls up there. The staff that works on the fully contaminated side works there until [covid] is completely gone. We used to switch sides between contaminated and non-contaminated sides but now workers strictly work on one side or the other during an outbreak. There is also a different entryway they can go into since we blocked out the main one. Those workers have to get tested more frequently but they’re also workers who typically have already had covid so they have can’t get sick again.

Q: If you were a resident in your facility, how would you describe the experience they are going through during this time?

A: I would say frustrating. I feel bad about the rules in place and how lonely it is. I wish they were allowed to go for walks, for example. But I would also say they are doing a good job at managing their mental health with the rules. Sometimes, I’ll just stand there and talk to them to try to bring comfort.

Q: How would you say the vaccine rollout is going for both staff and residents alike?

A: With staff, they highly suggested [getting vaccinated] but they can’t really require it. With residents, I don’t know if they really had a choice but all of them got it.

Q: So if the residents were all vaccinated, has your facility loosened or changed their restrictions?
A: No, they haven’t loosened the rules but I am hopeful that they will soon. I think the reason for doing this is just to keep playing it safe. Once society loosens up with regulations, I think our facility will follow.

Q: Do you think the residents are physically healthy and also entertained enough, given the circumstance?
A: Yes, each resident is equipped with technology to contact their family. Myself and my staff usually initiate the calls to help them out so they’re not struggling for it. We also just opened up Bingo again so we hope that’ll help even more. Our facility also has physical therapists that help keep them on their feet and moving from time to time. They will walk down the hallway together and do some stretches with them.

Q: If we were to fast forward to a post-pandemic era, what would you say the most rewarding aspects of working here would be?

A: I think the most rewarding part would be being there for them and letting them know they’re safe and that I’m here. There’s a lot of rewarding parts to connecting with them.

Photo by: Kati Blocker, UC Health: https://www.uchealth.org/today/colorado-thanks-uchealth-health-care-workers/

Overall, it is safe to say there is a lot of challenges that this pandemic has given both seniors and health care workers alike. However, despite the challenges and the risks, it is people like Lindsey Caballero who are helping create a safe and interactive environment for our seniors who are stuck inside. The odds aren’t in our favor during times like these, but it is best to look on the bright side. With Larimer County vaccine distributions coming out we can only hope that soon our lives will look a little better and everyone find greater joy in their life.

For the full transcript please contact Sarah Neff at sarah.neff@rams.colostate.edu