The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us, but nursing homes have taken the hardest hit, as many of these facilities have faced outbreaks and staffing issues that seem to get worse with every wave. This is a topic that we see frequently on the news, but we wanted to give you an inside look at what it's like to work in Long Term Care during the pandemic, so we interviewed PSW Lucy Corbiere, with whom we recently connected with after seeing a powerful video she posted on social media (you can see it below).
These are the questions we asked Lucy in this heartfelt and touching interview that will certainly inspire anyone, whether you work in healthcare or not.
CARING SUPPORT: What is your occupation and how long have you been working in this career?
LUCY CORBIERE: I’ve been a PSW (personal support worker) for 25 years now. I thought about being a nurse, after a couple of years doing PSW work. I went back to school, got my courses in science to get into a nursing program, but before I applied, I wanted to follow a nurse around for about a month, to see if it was something I wanted to do. And I didn’t like it. Number one, they had no time with the residents. I was in and out because you had to move on to the next one. I wanted to have compassion with the residents; I wanted to be able to chit-chat with them and stuff like that, and when I was following a nurse, we didn’t have time to do that, so I decided to go against it and stay as a PSW. The reason why I chose to be a PSW is that I get to spend quality time with the resident, and as a nurse, you couldn’t.
When I first started as a PSW I thought “Oh my god, what am I getting myself into? I don’t know if I can do this.” And the nice thing about it, though, is that I fell in love with it. When I first went on placement (I had to do 12 weeks of placement in a nursing home), within two weeks of being there I said “Oh my god, I love this – This is me.” And I’ve done many many other jobs, and they were never fulfilling but this one was.
Five weeks into my placement, they called my school and said they wanted to hire me full time, and out of 32 students, I was the only one hired at the time, before my placement was done, and I didn’t have to go to school but the last three weeks because I was hired full time, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done different jobs, like a nursing home, home care, supportive housing, community care, stuff like that, but nursing homes are a lot of work, but that’s me, that’s where I want to be. I’ve seen residents come in and stay for 10 years. You get to meet their family, you know everything about them, you know what they did when they were a kid, you know what they like, what they didn’t like. It's just a very fulfilling job. They become part of you, it’s like an extended family.
CS: How has your experience been working as a frontline worker during the Covid-19 pandemic?
LC: The pandemic, when it first came, we were up in arms because we didn’t know what to expect, what was going to happen, what we were going to do. So, it was day to day basis, really, trying to figure this out, while following instructions from the government, following instructions from the Ministry of Health… Worrying, scared about our residents catching this and then dying; we didn’t want that. It was very scary because we had no idea what was going on when it first hit. We know a little bit more about now, so we’re more prepared now; but at the time, we weren’t.
CS: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
LC: The biggest challenge has been trying to keep the covid virus out. Trying to keep the residents safe. We shut down immediately. Our manager shut down immediately, and I praise her for that because then nobody came in, nobody went out. It was just us, and we were all unvaccinated, as there were not even thoughts of getting injections at the time, so we said “we got to keep this stuff out of here. Let’s do this. We can do this.” And for 18 months, we did.
It was hard, very hard. Our residents didn’t understand. They didn’t know what was going on. The cognitive ones (the ones without any cognitive impairments) were like “I get it, I get it” but the ones with dementia or short-term memory loss kept asking “what’s going on?” so we had to keep reassuring them, keep telling them that there’s a disease out there, a virus that is going around, very dangerous, and that we had to keep them safe. We had to constantly remind them of this, we had to tell them over and over every day… What I did was distract them. I would say “let’s go over here, tell me about your daughter again…” until they didn’t worry anymore. I was always on my toes trying to make them not worry about their families and why they weren’t coming to visit. So we were always coming up with little excuses. The Activities Department, bless their hearts said we could do Zoom, and we started doing it and that made the world of a difference for the residents. They couldn’t actually touch their families or hug them, but they could see their faces and talk to them, laugh. It was great.
In terms of taking care our ourselves as caregivers, it was also challenging because we didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything; I’m speaking for myself. I just went to work and came home. The reason why I did it is that I know I need to protect myself, make sure I’m not sick because I need to protect my residents. They are important to me. I didn’t want to feel that I was the one that got them sick because I did something stupid. And it was hard on me because I wanted to go out, but my residents were always on my mind.
CS: We saw the video you posted on social media asking people to pray for the residents who live in your workplace, what was going through your mind at that moment?
LC: Well, going into work that day and finding out that we have covid in the building. At first it was only one resident, the next day it was two. By the third day we had six. We now have 13 on my side and two have died already. So, we’re back to wearing N95 masks, goggles, face shields, gowns, gloves... all over again, but this time it’s in, and I don’t know how it got in, we were so safe. It just broke my heart. Almost two years of covid and I was so proud, so happy that we were doing such a good job. All the residents were vaccinated with four doses, and they are still sick, and still dying… yeah.
When I recorded the video I was hurt, upset, confused, and I just wanted prayers, to see if prayers would help these residents. My family – I’m first nation, by the way – and we really believe in prayer, so I was asking my family and friends to send prayers for these people because I sure was. I was praying every day.
CS: What reaction did you receive from people who saw your video? Was it the reaction you were expecting?
LC: Oh my god, the response I got was great. People were saying “Lucy, you’re a good worker, you’re strong, you got a big heart. You love these people, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up on them, don’t give up on yourself.” And it made me feel a lot better because they see me as a very caring person, and I am. I wouldn’t be doing this for 25 years if I wasn’t.
So, the response was unbelievable, it made my day. And I even went back in and told some of my coworkers “I got my family praying for us. Let’s all pray. Let's hope these guys get better.” And it brought my spirits back up, and it made me even more courageous. I had the courage to go back in do this. They were very supportive, and I was so glad to hear all their thoughts and words towards me... It was so nice to hear that feedback.
You know, nursing homes is where a lot of people are going to end up sometime. The thing is, a lot of people hear bad things about nursing homes, but there are people like me out there; they got to remember that. There are people that do care and we’re there. They don’t see us 24/7 in the home. They don’t see the love that we have for these residents. They don’t see the care we give to these residents. They don’t see the time we spend with these residents, how we joke with them, make them laugh, tickle them, and play games with them. That’s the stuff a lot of people don’t see, and my family knows me, so to hear their words saying “you’re a loving, caring woman, Lucy. You’re a strong woman, you always have been, keep up the good work. We love you.” Words like that just made my day. It was really touching to see the support I got.
CS: What other resources do you think frontline workers like yourself need to keep providing your services to residents in LTC?
LC: We definitely need more staff, for sure. And we definitely need more comfortable PPE (personal protective equipment) because what we have is so uncomfortable. But mostly staff, I think, because right now the ratio is 1 person to 11 residents. The government mentioned weeks ago that they were going to bring in nurses, PSWs, PAs, to come and help nursing home people out because of the omicron, and we’re still waiting for those people. It frustrates us at the same time because our staff is getting sick, so where are these extra workers that the government said were going to come to help us, to support us? That’s the downside about this, but regardless, we get in there and I do my best to go to every resident before the end of my shift, and we have 32 on my side.
When I did the video my back was killing me because residents are isolated to their rooms and we had to give them bed baths, and I had to do it myself. At the same time, when I said that, I was upset that we were supposed to get help, and that’s one of the reasons why I made those comments.
CS: What would you like the families of LTC residents to know about the work that healthcare workers are doing?
LC: I would tell them to don’t worry about them because they are safe. They are cared for and we’re doing the best that we can, and going beyond sometimes, to take care of them.
Another thing I want to tell the families is that for me, I’m speaking for myself, my residents are my number one priority. They come first when I’m at work, every one of them, and I do my best to protect them, and I love all my residents. And if you ever go to my (nursing) home and ask them “what about Lucy?” You’d be amazed by what they would say. I love what I do, so your family is going to be safe with me. I’m not going to let anything happen to them.
CS: What advice would you give someone looking at working as a frontline worker in LTC?
LC: Number one, for me, is that you have to have a big heart and patience. If you don’t have those two things you are not going to succeed. Those are the two big things.
To future PSWs that want to get into this, I want to let them know that this is not just a job where you go in, do your job, get out, and get a paycheque. It’s not like working as a cashier at a store, you need to have a heart and you need to be a caring person to do this, because if you don’t have those things you’re going to fail and get burnt out.
Another thing is if you want to get into this, you have to remember that residents become your family, and I am speaking for myself because they are my family. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I have worked in different places. I’ve seen people come in thinking they can do this as a job, and they end up quitting because they don’t understand and don’t have those qualities.
What do you think of this interview? Leave us a comment below, and be sure to stay tuned for more inspiring stories like this on the Caring Support site.
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