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.”