What It's Like to Work in a Nursing Home During COVID-19: 'It's All Hands on Deck'


COVID-19 has touched nearly every community in every corner of the US, but one group has been hit harder than the rest: The elderly population, specifically those in nursing homes across America.

For Health's new video series, "From the Frontlines," we spoke to Chaunci Singleton, a nursing home social worker based in New Jersey, about what it's been like to work with the elderly population in assisted living facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many residents have been unable to see loved ones, due to social distancing guidelines.

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"It's kinda sad because these people are wanting to be around their families, especially people who are really, really sick," Singleton tells Health. She sympathizes with family members who are unable to see their relatives currently in nursing homes. "If my mom is dying, how can you say I that I cannot come and see my mom?" she asks.

To try to help the situation, Singleton says her facility has tried to give residents the opportunity, even just virtually, to see their loved ones as much as possible. "These people came from seeing loved ones, a lot of them, almost daily, to not at all," she says. "So we kinda implemented FaceTiming with them and for them, to have them connect with the families." Unfortunately, sometimes that makes the situation a little more difficult to handle. "That's even making it more emotional, because now it's like, 'I see you, but I can't touch you,'" says Singleton.

On top of that, Singleton says she and her other coworkers are often taking on more responsibilities, due to an increased workload for everyone. "It's all hands on deck, so you're not necessarily always doing what it is that you would normally do," she says. Singleton, who's a social worker, may have to help out in other ways, including making beds. "The manpower is low because you're not fully staffed because some of the staff is sick, or you know, they can't come to work because they have children who are now out of school and there's no one to watch them," she says.

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Singleton's facility is also low on the necessary items—including face masks and cleaning supplies—used to protect staff members and residents. That rationing has also led to improperly using supplies that are available, says Singleton. "My biggest pet peeve right now: Yes, people are wearing gloves, but gloves are supposed to be changed between anything you do," she says, adding that when you're doing a bunch of different activities with the same gloves—cleaning, cooking, touching personal items—you're "doing more damage by wearing the same gloves than either not wearing gloves at all and just washing your hands, or changing gloves as you should be changing them."

Regardless of the difficulties she and her staff have faced, Singleton says the most important thing to remember in these trying times is to stay positive—especially in her line of work. "Remember to keep a smile on your face because you don't want what's going on in our life to reflect off of you," she says. "At the end of the day, at least we can go home; a lot of these people can't go home, they can't see their family members." Right now, "everybody has to come together, even if we can't touch," says Singleton. "As long as we support each other and help each other and we work together as a team, we can definitely beat this."

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