Last week I attended the American Health Care Association meeting at the Gaylord National Hotel in Maryland, outside of DC. As I left in my car, last Saturday from my home in Durham, NC, I was excited to get back to a large conference, to seeing all my friends from the post-acute arena, and anxious to hear what’s next. What I didn’t realize was how raw I would be left feeling after the conference.
On Sunday morning, I attended the Quality Cabinet meeting. This is usually an update of the work of the committees we all volunteer in to support the association. I found my table marked “Regulatory Committee” and sat with my fellow committee members. Our chatter was superficial: discussions around travel and sharing of new systems we have found. We were all looking forward to having a great conference, away from the day to day of the pandemic.
The Quality Cabinet is led by stellar leaders in post-acute care, who chose not to do the normal updates but to allow us to share our stories. While this was on the agenda, I did not think at the time I would participate. As they shared their stories of how the pandemic has (had) affected their lives over the past 19 months, I felt compelled to tell the story of a small nursing home, in rural America, who struggled with handling the virus, culminating with the recommendation, that if you know anyone struggling out there, regardless of whether they are your competitor or not, please, please help them! Associations matter and without this Association and my participation in a group called the Nurse Executive Committee, I don’t think I personally would have had the information I needed to help our communities attack this pesky virus on the front lines.
As we progressed through the conference, more and more of this occurred. More sharing, more feelings that had been suppressed, or put to the side coming to the surface. In the opening ceremony, led by Governor Parkinson, I looked around, as I thought I was the only one crying, no, everyone around me was shedding a tear. But what were we crying about? We’re we remembering our staff working many hours day and night without a break? Remembering putting up plastic barriers to isolate our elderly? Closing the doors and telling folks they had to stay in their rooms? Telling families they could not visit? The constant changes, the turning on a dime, the hope that someone would not die? Perhaps it was all of it?
The culmination of this for me, was watching the movie that AHCA has produced “COVID-19 in Nursing Homes”. I came out “raw”. My feelings which had been set aside and put in a box were out for all to see. I sat sobbing in the viewing room. The closing helped, with all the video thanks from the celebrities, but while this was great, this needs to get to our staff. Mission Health agrees. We did a “Thank You” tour in the spring, which allowed our staff to take their feelings and put them into written word. It was a moving exercise that facilitated examining our experiences over the past year and became a touching project to share with the staff back at the communities in recognition of everyone’s work. Writing has always been cathartic for me, and it is helping me again to take my feelings regarding this ongoing pandemic and put them out there, but also to tuck them away again into my box to the side.
I never realized how “raw” this would make me, but that is also part of the grieving process we all need to do, to move forward. I encourage readers, especially those in the healthcare profession, to free-write a bit about your experiences throughout COVID-19. You never know how it might help!
Thank you to the producers of the conference, and specifically Governor Parkinson, Deb Meade, Dr. David Gifford, and Janet Snipes for allowing us to express our feelings; this should only help us in the long run as we continue to deal with this pandemic.
Chief Clinical Officer, Mission Health Communities