A hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. As Maine health care providers continue battling this insidious, invisible and sometimes deadly intruder that is COVID-19, there has been a proper focus on our front line heroes. These include thousands of caregivers working in our nursing homes and assisted living communities, but their outstanding achievements and noble qualities didn’t begin during this public health crisis and won’t end when it is over. Rather, their commitment to caring for their residents is standard practice that hasn’t changed despite difficult and unprecedented circumstances. We praise the everyday heroes who are our long-term care employees.

Despite their own fear of testing positive and worrying about the shortage of personal protective equipment, long-term care employees submit to routine staff screenings for symptoms and prepare themselves to make these days seem normal for their residents. They strive to provide a level of calm and certainty in an environment that is changing almost daily. For many residents in their care, while visitation and meals may look different, their caregivers are the same – the same smiling eyes, gentle hands and kind hearts that they’re accustomed to seeing daily.

In situations where caregivers have tested positive for COVID-19 and are unable to work, many long for the day that they’re cleared to return to work so that residents can have the care they count on and deserve. Once back on the front lines, they are stepping up and performing with valor. Many of us will never know what it feels like to leave our families every morning or evening to go to work to provide life-sustaining care. For our long-term care heroes, it is a matter of routine. While many Mainers are hunkered down in their homes watching Netflix and spending time with family, these caregivers are ensuring the loved ones of others continue to receive the support they need.

On top of the pressures our caregivers face at work, an additional set of worries plagues them at home. A recent national study conducted by Activated Insights reveals that nearly half of front line workers in long-term care are experiencing personal hardships because of COVID-19. And more than half report needing help, both at home and at work. The same household supplies we covet are the ones they also need. The study found: “With unprecedented mass layoffs of their family members, many report from the front lines of senior care facilities that they are now their household’s sole breadwinner. Coupled with school closures, they feel financially overwhelmed with more mouths to feed at home, additional child care costs and the need for stockpiling supplies.”

As caregivers grapple with these challenges, it is heartening to see the ways in which employers, residents, families and communities have rallied to support them. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities are providing their employees with hazard pay, bonuses, complimentary meals and household supplies to ease the burden. Families of residents have gone to great lengths to learn new technology as a means of connecting with their loved one. Visitors and volunteers, even four-legged ones, have braved the elements for window visits, which have provided joy to residents and their caregivers.

Countless community members have raised funds for iPads, sewn and donated thousands of cloth masks, organized food drives or child care and posted large signs of gratitude and support outside our facilities. Maine-based companies have pivoted operations to make critically needed PPE to ease the shortage, many of whom have donated their products. Maine long-term care employees are grateful for the support that makes it possible for them to continue caring for our parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends across the state in every community.

While COVID-19 is an unprecedented battle, the response from the front lines in long-term care is not uncommon at all. This is their calling and it is something they do on a daily basis in normal times. But in this extraordinary moment – thank you. Thank you for being our everyday heroes.

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