Lauren Hoffman has been tested 27 times for COVID-19. She works as a speech language pathologist at a skilled-nursing, short-term rehabilitation and memory-care facility in the Dallas area, where the rule is staffers don’t quarantine for exposure, only if they show up positive during their regularly scheduled tests.
“It felt like my life was put on the sacrificial altar because most people, if they have been exposed are told to quarantine; healthcare does not get that luxury,” said Hoffman, who has worked in skilled nursing for seven years. “Can you imagine an entire staff of people, or even four or five people from a staff, being told they could not come to work because they were exposed to someone who was tested positive? The system would break down. There would be no one to care for our residents.”
Although she’s been careful, Hoffman is scared of infecting the residents or potentially sending the facility back into isolation. Every day, she sees the anxiety and confusion on residents’ faces as they’re reminded to wear masks or told that their families can’t visit.
“We actually are all in this together, and just one person with COVID can cause huge waves. We are constantly weighing the risks of our actions outside of work versus what we might expose our residents to,” Hoffman said.
In the memory-care unit, pandemic restrictions have been more challenging because residents there are prone to wandering, she said.
“It is really hard to make them feel safe and at home and want to stay and encourage them to not seek exits when they can’t see our face or how we are nice. All they see is our eyes and these scary masks,” Hoffman said.
While she loves her job and the residents, the pandemic has taken a personal toll. Hoffman, a former music major, finds herself driving to work in silence now, instead of listening to music. Sometimes she sits in her car “doomscrolling” social media after work before heading home, even though she’s told her husband she’s on her way. She skips lunch because coworkers can no longer eat together.
“I find myself, some days, doing the bare minimum to get by and, once I get home, doing the bare minimum … but then feeling incredibly guilty for not doing more,” Hoffman said.
At one point, Hoffman brought home residents’ socks to pair and clothes to relabel because the housekeeping and laundry staff couldn’t keep up without the normal help of residents’ families. And, early on, Hoffman’s mom and her friends made masks for residents and the staff.
“I love what I do, and I would not change it for the world. There are things about the situation that I would change, but I love going to see my little old ladies and little old men, who have no idea what day it is anymore, and seeing their face light up when they see my goofy self walking down the hall waving at them,” Hoffman said. “It brings a smile to both our faces. Even if they can’t see my mouth, they can see my eyes.”