COVID-19 cost Rachel Schwartz her job. Now, she’s working to keep the coronavirus from costing other people their lives.
Several weeks ago, the 25-year-old Sterling Heights native was working for the U.S. Peace Corps in Africa. Then she and thousands of other volunteers were evacuated as the pandemic spread.
Back home in Michigan and ineligible for unemployment compensation, Schwartz decided to look for a job. What she found has given her a first-hand experience of Michigan’s essential medical heroes responding to COVID-19.
“I instantly sensed the additional burden that COVID-19 was placing amongst the workers and was eager to provide any relief that I could,” said Schwartz, who started working last month as a waiver care aide at MediLodge of Shoreline, a skilled nursing facility in Sterling Heights. “Every individual has been affected by this crisis, but all of these frontline workers are experiencing an intensifying effect.”
The waiver care aide positions are temporary, non-clinical roles that were created by MediLodge’s network of 50 skilled nursing facilities statewide to have extra hands in care centers at a time of need. The jobs, which do not require prior health care experience, are also a response to community residents in the wake of pandemic-related layoffs, furloughs or hour reductions in other industries.
With a background in social work and a desire to help others any way she can, Schwartz was immediately drawn to MediLodge when she came across it during an online career search. She applied for the job and became one of many newly hired team members who are providing facility support in a variety of ways.
The daily to-do list for Schwartz includes making sure all employees are wearing a mask and documenting the results of COVID-19 screenings that employees undergo each day. She also helps residents at mealtime and with their daily hygiene, while also providing emotional support.
After a few weeks on the job, Schwartz has alligator-skin hands from constant handwashing and also a new appreciation for nurses who have readily adapted to an environment of COVID precautions including visitor restrictions and personal protective equipment.
“I am both amazed and appreciative of the strength and commitment that I witness within my new co-workers,” she said. “They continue to maintain positive attitudes, to support one another and to provide optimal service.
“We are strong, we are dedicated, and we are constantly adapting. We are the service workers and we are all in this together.”
Of course, support isn’t only coming from within MediLodge skilled nursing facilities these days. Across the state there are stories of heroic acts by family members of residents and the community at large who have rallied around MediLodge facilities to affirm and support the quality nursing care happening inside.
The list of examples is endless:
How can you support your local skilled nursing facility during the COVID-19 pandemic? By donating lunch? Delivering snacks or treats? Sewing masks? Sending cards of encouragement or putting signs in the lawn?
Or maybe by joining the team at a MediLodge facility as Schwartz did. Temporary job opportunities are available across the state under 30-, 60- and 90-day contracts for positions in activities, dietary and facility support, as well as for certified and licensed staff such as CNAs, LPNs, and RNs. People who’ve lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, retirees and college students home from school are all among the workers hired in recent weeks.
Some new hires are even turning their temporary jobs into launching pads for a new career, even if they’ve never thought about working in long term care before. For example, Amanda Macias was working in childcare when the spreading coronavirus shuttered her workplace and forced her to be laid off. She applied at MediLodge of East Lansing for a job as a temporary waiver care aide, doing things such as taking employee temperatures at the door, sanitizing surfaces and wiping down wheelchairs.
About an hour into her first shift, Macias was asked by a resident for some assistance. But because she’s not a certified nursing assistant, she had to find another staff member to help.
Macias realized right then that she wanted to pursue her CNA certification. She’s looking forward to taking the certification class, at MediLodge’s expense, and becoming a permanent part of the team. She’s even planning to pursue a nursing license and will start taking classes in the fall.
“I love it so much!” Macias said. “It is physically demanding, but so rewarding to know when I leave work that I made a difference in someone’s life.”
David Gaines probably assesses his life’s work differently than many people would assume after learning that he’s spent 34 years working at Gaines Jewelry, the Flint-based store founded by his father in 1963.
“My dad’s philosophy wasn’t to just wow anyone with inventory or to simply sell them a product,” said Gaines. “He taught me early on that we are here to form relationships, to get to know people and build the trust that creates a customer for life.”
“I’m in the jewelry industry, but it’s really about the people that I meet and then get to be a part of their lives. That’s what hooked me. We get to touch people at a time in their lives that they’re happy and a moment that they will remember forever, whether that’s engagements, birthdays or other special occasions. I fell in love with being a part of that feeling.”
As the Gaines family celebrates 57 years in business in 2020, David, along with his daughter, Selina, and son, Wesley, look back with pride at how the Flint community has embraced them. The family business mirrors the community, with the third generation of Gaines involved in finding precious gems and accessories for its third generation of clients.
David recalls his father selling pieces to customers whose children and grandchildren now allow David to meet their jewelry needs
“It’s these long-standing relationships that are so important because it shows we have created a tradition and that we continue living up to the expectations,” David said. “At the same time, we love meeting new people and starting out with them from square one. That’s an exciting process for us.”
As the region’s oldest independent jewelry store, Gaines Jewelry found a balance in having the latest designs and popular brands like Pandora and Kabana alongside original, unique pieces. The family also finds satisfaction in carrying such a wide inventory that they can meet price points of customers at any stage in life.
The full-service nature of the business also allows Gaines to collaborate with clients on repairs, jewelry redesigns and custom designs. Many processes once done by hand are now done using a computer-aided design process to create timeless and poignant pieces. Customizing jewelry has become more efficient and customer-friendly in recent years because of technology, which Gaines Jewelry has invested in to be at the cutting-edge of the industry.
“If you can dream it, we can build it,” David says, noting designs can be conceptualized and completed in as little as three to four weeks.
While the jeweler’s primary operations are based at the Beecher Road location, the Gaines’ are also eagerly anticipating what the future brings with the addition of The Gallery by Gaines pop-up shop in the Shops on Saginaw in downtown Flint. Daughter Selina manages the new location that opened in December. The shop has a curated selection of affordable and fashionable jewelry, and the opening was a sign of how the family feels about Flint.
“Flint is my town, it’s where I went to school, went to college and raised my family,” David said. “The community has invested in us, and we have invested in the community that we love. There’s a lot of momentum downtown and we want to support and be a part of that activity.
“The Gallery is a sampling of what we have done and what people can expect when they visit (the Beecher Road store). We hope it introduces us to new people or makes it more convenient for them to visit our store and learn about us.”