Health care through the eyes of caregivers | Nandell Palmer

The certified nursing assistant (CNA) was trying to feed her 95-year-old patient lunch when the great-grandmother diverted her attention around the corner.

“Come with me. I want to show you my mother!”

Hand in hand, the elderly woman led her caregiver to the vertical mirror in the hallway.

“Here’s my mother,” she said, pointing to her image in the mirror with an air of confidence.

“Oh, she’s so beautiful!” the CNA offered, playing along with her patient’s phantom mother.

As America’s aging population increases annually, there are greater demands for health care workers to supervise Alzheimer’s patients.

Family members that once scoffed at the idea of sending away Mom and Dad to nursing homes are now forced to make one of life’s most challenging decisions.

While some would love to take care of their ailing loved ones at home, they don’t have the financial wherewithal or medical know-how to give round-the-clock care to patients.

Still, residents who can afford to stay inside their own homes are doing just that while others opt for nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Alzheimer’s, according to an MD, is a dreaded type of dementia that cannot be remedied.

In any profession, you can always count on a few bad apples to tarnish the reputation of the majority. For example, it is said that some health workers binge on their patients’ medication.

That’s why it was incumbent for more stringent government oversight. Last November, Washingtonians voted I-1163 into law. The new law requires better training and more accountability for long-term care workers.

One would say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even though I initially harbored mixed feelings about the changes, I am glad that the state stepped in with its reform.

With innumerable people laid off from jobs in various high-end sectors because of the sluggish economy, legions are forced to get into health care by default, if you will. Entry level jobs are primarily CNA and Home Health Aide (HHA) openings.

So, how does a real estate broker or a software developer earning $15,000 per month five years ago contend with a measly $12 per hour salary, sometimes part time?

Who are these people charged with taking care of our parents and great-grandparents? Are they driven by just a paycheck to tide them over until the job market gets better, or are they passionate about what they do?

Having visited several Federal Way nursing homes and heard various stories, I would conjecture that taking care of cognitively-impaired patients is not for the faint-at-heart. It calls for people with extra doses of empathy, patience and kindness.

These workers are required to complete upward of 90 hours of training, which includes clinical practice in real nursing homes. They must also pass a written and practical state test, competency evaluation, tuberculosis (TB) and criminal background check.

Since “good” money is hardly a factor in anyone’s becoming a CNA/HHA, what then is truly the big draw? Many attribute a lifelong passion stemming from their caring for an elderly or disabled loved one.

CNAs and HHAs assist residents with basic Activities of Daily Living (ADLs): bathing, grooming, oral care, cleaning bodily functions and feeding.

While a small percentage of CNAs and HHAs are American-born, the field is predominantly minorities and immigrants from Africa, South America and Asia. Nationally, women outnumber men, nine to one.

Most often than not, these caregivers don’t possess the requisite education like their patients, some of whom once graduated from Ivy League universities and commanded much power with the stroke of a pen.

To the naked eye, life is not always a level playing field. Some caregivers with barely a high school diploma now tell former professors, pilots, senators, and architects  when to go to bed, how much to eat, and when to wash up.

Many of them encounter sleepless nights from restless patients who could walk away or fall and break brittle bones in a nanosecond without that watchful eye.

So, cheers to dedicated CNAs and HHAs in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or private homes. Thank you for your sterling work.

Despite our rapid technologies, it’s comforting to know that there’ll always be a need for that gentle pair of hands to rock the cradle, wipe our drools, and keep us steady over our bedpans.

When I peer into the looking glass of the future, the stark reality beckons that men and women yet unborn will become my caregivers if I’m around for the next five decades. Now, that takes some humbling!


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