By Emily Williams
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the higher your age, the higher your risk is to develop more severe symptoms if you contract COVID-19.
In addition, those over the age of 65 account for eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States.
Assisted living facilities and other care services for the elderly, the most vulnerable population, have put lockdowns in place and limited visitation as well as implementing other safety measures.
Meanwhile, Always Best Care of Birmingham saw a growing need for professional care services not only for the seniors they serve, but those COVID patients as well. The senior care organization consists of a staff of caregivers who provide non-medical personal and social care to persons who live at home or need a bit of extra help at their assisted living facility.
Care specifically designed for COVID-19 patients who are not sick enough for hospitalization but whose symptoms were severe enough to need additional care wasn’t something President Jennifer Mancuso planned to offer until one of their own contracted the virus.
“I normally wouldn’t have done this, but we had a family member (of a client) test positive some months ago and they were very sick,” Mancuso said. “They needed some help in the home, so we prepared very quickly to serve the family member.”
Mancuso initially reached out to other agencies in the city to see if they would be willing to help care for coronavirus patients and was met with resistance. Though they supported Always Best Care and were willing to provide whatever aid they could, they did not wish to take on the task.
“I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to do this, so we stepped into the fray,” Mancuso said.
A customized COVID training program was put into place for caregivers who were willing to participate in coronavirus care, aided by one of ABC’s directors who is a registered nurse. Grateful is the word Mancuso uses to describe how she feels about her employees who wished to take on the challenge.
Caregivers don “all of the protective gear,” including gloves, shields, n95 masks and surgical gowns, Mancuso said. “People look like astronauts when they are going out the door.”
Initially, when Personal Protective Equipment was scarce in the United States, Mancuso said she was calling on colleagues and friends in bigger cities where agency owners had anticipated an outbreak of COVID and had stocked PPE in preparation.
Always Best Care has always supplied caregivers with gloves but began giving them masks as well in March. Now masks and gloves are free for both caregivers and clients.
“It’s a big expense, but we feel like it’s something we have to do,” Mancuso said. “This is the new normal, so we’ve got to get used to those masks.”
At first, Always Best stuck to serving family members, but as more members of the community began to need help, the program was expanded.
“What we found was that, while in most cases family members are very willing to help their loved ones with things like this, in a situation where someone is positive for COVID, all of a sudden that puts a whole new spin on things,” Mancuso said.
She has seen family members feel torn between taking care of their loved one with COVID or putting their family at risk of contracting the virus.
As far as she knows, Mancuso said, all of Always Best Care’s coronavirus patients have recovered, some able to re-enter the assisted living facilities they had to leave when they tested positive. In addition, no ABC caregivers have contracted the virus while working with COVID-positive patients, though each caregiver quarantines after they have cared for someone with the virus.
“It’s not like going into a battlefield where you might be shot,” she said. “As long as you are wearing the protective gear and you do all of the things that we are told to do these days – wash your hands frequently, keep socially distant even when you’re in the home with someone that has it,” and such.
At the beginning of the pandemic, in March, personal protective equipment was harder to get a hold of, but now it is more readily available.
Mancuso admits that the beginning phases of creating a COVID-19 care program were initially frightening, but ABC has found their groove.
“It is a scary time, but it does seem like things are getting a little more stable. People are more cognizant of the fact that we’ve got to wear masks and we’ve got to wash our hands … you know, it’s not much more complicated than that,” she said.
For more information, visit alwaysbestcare.com/al/birmingham or call 1-800-501-6209.