Thousands of residents in nursing homes across the state not only rely on CSEA members to provide quality health care, but provide care that enhances their well-being.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, nursing home staffs were forced into quick, ever-changing action to protect residents from the virus that has had particularly harsh effects on individuals who are older and face underlying health conditions.

At many nursing homes, staff members also faced outbreaks of COVID-19, not only among residents, but among themselves. Along with the virus, many facilities also dealt with understaffing and funding concerns.
Through it all, CSEA members continued to provide quality care to some of our state’s most vulnerable individuals.

Chemung County Nursing Facility fighting pandemic and privatization

Jeanne Little on the job at Chemung County Nursing Facility early this year, before COVID-19 widely affected New York.

ELMIRA — Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New York State, CSEA members employed at the Chemung County Nursing Facility had been gearing up to fight back against privatization talks by the county.

While those discussions were in their early stages, staff at the nursing home had to prioritize the newest threat facing their workplace — coronavirus — to keep the home’s residents safe.

Jeanne Little, a licensed practical nurse at the home, said that staff was able to quickly adjust to the ever-changing state regulations and executive orders throughout the pandemic.

While not all the workers necessarily agreed with all of the changes, ultimately, everyone recognized they were necessary for resident safety.

When staff were wearing both face masks and shields, it limited their ability to connect with residents who, for various health reasons, might not otherwise recognize their caregivers.

“We printed pictures of our faces and put them on our badges so they could see what we look like under all the masks and shields,” Little said. “So that was, and still is, challenging.”

While residents have been starved for social interaction, the facility’s activity coordinators have been working hard to ensure residents can get outside (while wearing a mask) and are able to call and video chat with their loved ones whenever possible.

“[Residents] just all got their hair cut last week and that was a huge thing for them to feel some sort of normalcy,” Little said. “It’s just been a real struggle to keep their moods up.”

Low staffing levels were a concern even before the pandemic, but now that problem has gotten worse. “Staffing right now is very, very poor. No one is applying [for jobs at the home]and we’re losing people,” Little said. “A lot of people are working eight, 12 or 16 hours while having to keep that mask on for that long and they are being tested once a week. We’re just trying to stay positive and trying to keep everyone upbeat saying this isn’t going to be forever.”

Chemung County officials will most likely start privatization talks again as they assess the financial toll that COVID-19 has taken.

Without unrestricted federal funding to help local governments cover the loss of revenue during the shutdown, vital public services, like the great care the Chemung County Nursing Facility provides, could be in jeopardy.

— Nicholas Newcomb

‘We make sure our residents are safe, healthy and cared for’

Savage

LYONS — Sodexo at Wayne County Nursing Home Local President Kelly Savage said health and safety protocols put in place at the nursing home early during the pandemic have clearly shown to produce dividends.

“We are faring pretty well now as we get into the summer months,” said Savage. “We have a good supply of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] thanks to the N-95 masks and everyone has confidently adapted to the new policies and procedures.”

Savage, who works as a household assistant, helps nursing home residents with meals, laundry and hygiene.

“From the start, I haven’t been so worried for myself as much as I am for those of us who are at high risk for getting sick,” she said. “Right now, we have no residents who are COVID-19 positive. Really, the only issue for us is we need more employees. We haven’t been able to hire any staff for obvious reasons. Other than that, we are showing up and doing what we have to do to make sure our residents are safe, healthy and well cared for.”

— Ove Overmyer

Preparation key to COVID-19 prevention

Congemi

KINGSTON — While many hospitals and nursing homes were equally walloped by the COVID-19 pandemic, some facilities mere miles apart fared better than others.

There were a number of factors at play with outcomes at CSEA-represented nursing homes. At the Golden Hill Nursing Home in Ulster County, luck wasn’t one of them.

“We were proactive,” said CSEA shop steward Dijonee Congemi, a certified nursing assistant at Golden Hill. “Once there was a confirmed case in the Kingston area, it wasn’t too long after that the decision was made to stop visitors. We didn’t know how long that would go on, but it happened before it became a state mandate.”

Restricting visitation is a tough call, since visits from family and friends can help nursing home residents thrive. While it was a tough call, it was the right call, as confirmed cases soon filled local hospitals and resulted in outbreaks at several area nursing homes.

As it turns out, Congemi said, taking regular infection control measures extra seriously made a difference in limiting COVID-19 at Golden Hill.

“They were very big on infection control, handwashing, and making sure we knew how to properly put on and take off our PPE,” said Congemi. “To this day, they still take our temperature at work and monitor for any possible symptoms.”

Assigning specific staff for possible COVID-19 cases was another smart step.

“In my unit, we had a dedicated hallway for any possible cases,” Congemi said. “We would have one nurse and one [cerified nursing assistant]assigned and they would have the face shield, an N-95 mask, gowns, the whole works. Before anything, you’d wash your hands and make sure you’re set with that, and then put on your PPE. Then when you’re done, you would take everything off and properly dispose of it.”
With so many restrictions in place, staff put an extra emphasis on keeping residents connected with family.

“The staff have been Facetiming residents’ family members,” said Congemi. “They also bring them downstairs to the lobby while their loved ones are outdoors. They’ll either have a cell phone or Facetime and they can communicate that way.”

With all the long hours and hard work, the impact on workers and their family lives is undeniable. Congemi said it helped that management set up emergency child care for those workers needing it. Morale boosts via food donations and other tributes from local organizations also helped.

While COVID-19 infection cases have declined, workers remain extra vigilant. There’s pride, however, in how initial preventative steps made a difference early on.

“It showed on our part that we were doing something right,” Congemi said.

— Jessica Ladlee

Nursing home workers deserve recognition

Susan Ortiz, a certified nursing assistant at Valley View, had her gown signed by co-workers during National Nursing Home Week celebrations. (Photo provided by Susan Ortiz)

GOSHEN — The COVID-19 pandemic meant immediate and sweeping changes at nursing homes, resulting in measures aimed at limiting the spread of the disease.

For our members working at the Orange County-owned Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation, the pandemic meant working longer hours than normal, taking on COVID-19 patients from a local hospital and taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

While workers juggled the demands of home life, something especially challenging for those with young children, there remained a consistent effort to balance the measures taken for infection control with touches aimed at retaining some normalcy for residents.

With visitation restricted, workers also stepped in to provide comfort and end of life care for residents who might otherwise have had family beside them.

Visit from a Clydesdale that is part of the New York State Police Mounted Patrol

Workers went the extra mile to keep residents engaged while staying safe. Staff brought recreation directly to the units rather than common areas. Outdoors, there was a parade of emergency and municipal vehicles, a parade of classic cars, and even a visit from a Clydesdale that is part of the New York State Police Mounted Patrol. Eventually, some family members were able to enjoy outdoor visits with loved ones.
For a suburban area, Orange County was hit particularly hard after COVID-19 began to spread in New York. As this edition went to press, the Orange County Department of Health had reported over 10,658 positive cases and 473 deaths.

“It’s so important that we acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices of workers in nursing homes throughout this pandemic,” said Orange County Unit President Rosemarie Kukys, a registered nurse who oversees employee training at Valley View. “These past few months are unlike anything we as health care professionals have seen during our careers. Because we have bonds formed with our residents, it was on us to provide comfort and reassurance during a time that has been frightening for everyone. Everyone at Valley View, whether direct care workers or support staff, has shown the utmost compassion for our residents.”

Southern Region President Anthony Adamo said that feedback provided by our members in front-line health care settings such as Valley View shows the need for federal lawmakers to pass a version of the HEROES Act that includes hazard pay.

“The workers who have been on the front lines, many of whom have contracted COVID-19 at work, deserve recognition in the form of hazard pay as part of a federal aid package from Washington,” said Adamo. “The people who have cared for our vulnerable elderly residents during COVID-19, some of whom got sick themselves, must be paid fairly for that work.”

— Jessica Ladlee

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