Well, another month has passed and unfortunately not much has changed. Our residents remain confined to their apartments, safe from COVID but increasingly depressed, deconditioned, and restless. Toward the end of May, the State mandated that NJ facilities swab all residents and employees twice; once as a baseline, then again within 3-7 days of the first test. We were given very little notice and even less support. By less, I mean none: we were required to obtain our own tests and come up with a plan for administration. Labs are drowning and errors are inevitable. The expectation was that insurance would cover tests (fingers crossed), but if someone didn’t have benefits, our facilities were expected to front the cost.
While the amounts of time and money spent aren’t irrelevant, they pale in comparison to some other implications. Take fear, for instance. Our anticipatory dread was not only for the odd sensation and subsequent pain you feel when a plastic rod is swabbed so far up your nose it scrapes your throat, but also for the outcome; we were terrified of the results.
As an employee, if you refuse to be tested, you’re off the schedule. No exceptions. Residents, on the other hand, “can decline” but there’s a catch – they’ll have to remain on total isolation, regardless of how and when we start opening up. We at least knew what we were in for – when I explained to the team what to expect, they understood. They braced themselves. Some needed to take a seat, others took a few tries before their specimen was collected. But we knew what we had to do and got it done. The residents were another story.
I’m grateful to have been present for every single swab. I informed my loves of what was coming and cheered them on, making every attempt to ease their nerves. Most were troopers (some didn’t even flinch!), but overall, it was brutal. As we went room to room, we were met with screams, cursing, and confusion. Some begged for it to end. As tears welled in their eyes, some pushed the swab away. Absolutely brutal, and that was only round one. Rumor has it there’ll be several more.
As I hosted my weekly hallway meetings on Friday, I informed residents that it’s likely we’ll be required to continue testing weekly. In true form, I remained positive and hopeful. I stressed the importance of regular swabs and commended the health department’s intentions. “This is part of their plan to let us open up”, I assured them, “sooner rather than later”. I totally f’ing lied, and honestly, no one’s buying it anymore.
I wish whoever makes these rules would spend one day in a facility. I wish they had a clue what total isolation feels like to people who – at this point – would rather die than drag out such a painful version of their end of life. I wish I had better news for the residents and families hanging on my every word.