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Opinion: Care workers deserve gratitude and kindness, not abuse

Remember back to those early days in the pandemic when people would go outside in the evening and salute our healthcare heroes. 
Saleema Dhalla
Saleema Dhalla​​​​​​​/Interim CEO, SafeCare BC.

Editor’s note: The following is a guest opinion from Saleema Dhalla/Interim CEO, SafeCare BC

It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a challenging year for healthcare workers, especially for those working in long-term care homes, where COVID-19 visited with tragic consequences.

Long-term care workers have shouldered a huge psychological burden that many of us might not be able to appreciate. For most of the past year, they have been the only source of physical contact and companionship for residents, as the pandemic severely restricted visits to long-term care homes. They worked short-staffed while colleagues recovered from COVID-19 or had to isolate at home. They had to respond to residents with dementia and other cognitive challenges, who were confused at now seeing care staff covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment. Many workers sacrificed financially, because the provincial single site order meant they couldn’t work shifts at more than one care home. Every day, they worried about bringing COVID into their workplace, or bringing the virus home to their own families. Care workers are physically and mentally exhausted.

It’s not surprising then that a recent survey we conducted with our members, who work in long-term care and home and community care, revealed that mental health is the top workplace safety concern.  

More than ever, healthcare workers need our support. With visitation restrictions being lifted in care homes, family and friends are now being reunited with loved ones. This is hugely positive, but we are also hearing disturbing stories from frontline workers and managers that some visitors are being verbally abusive to staff, because they are being asked about their vaccination status, or asked to wear a mask, or follow basic infection prevention and control practices.

This behaviour cannot be tolerated. While new processes can be difficult for some, they are in place to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff, and visitors. We ask that anyone visiting a care home to be kind and respectful to the staff. They have been working under tremendous pressure to care for our loved ones. They deserve our gratitude, not verbal and physical abuse.        

It’s also important to remember that care homes may have different processes for visitors based on the lived experience of the staff and residents. Homes that suffered great loss and were hit hard by COVID outbreaks may be more cautious than others.

While the number of COVID outbreaks in long-term care has been reduced to zero in recent weeks, thanks in large part to vaccination efforts, COVID hasn’t been eradicated. It is still a serious virus that we are learning to live with, and with the disease still present in many communities, we all have a responsibility to keep it away from vulnerable seniors in our care homes.

We celebrate that people can see their loved ones in care, but visiting a care home can’t be like it used to (at least for now). So, if you have to answer some questions before entering a care home, or you’re asked to wear a mask, be kind, be respectful, and remember back to those early days in the pandemic when people would go outside in the evening and salute our healthcare heroes.