Still Essential!

Among the industries most affected since the Covid 19 Pandemic began is healthcare. Not just doctors and nurses, but everyone who support them in a wide variety of related fields. These include: supervisors, administrative personnel, technicians and lab workers, pharmacists, physical therapists, technologists, maintenance and janitorial support and many more. People willing to fill so many diverse positions in and around healthcare remain in short supply right now.


There is hardly a medical facility anywhere that isn’t overwhelmed because of staffing shortages across the board. We rightfully hailed all of those who occupy these positions as essential workers at the start of Covid. But since then, many left their chosen vocations because of fear, burnout or wanting to find other ways to use their skills where their lives weren’t on the line in the execution of their daily duties.


Even with the availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to help shield everyone from infection, for many, their fears weren’t assuaged. Fields such as physical and psycho therapists, social workers, caregivers, home-health aides, senior companions, and non-medical elder care specialists like van drivers and day program support staff all remain in short supply. The high vacancy numbers are staggering. Staffing shortages directly affect the quality of healthcare. This system is clearly broken.


Of note, home health aides are in short supply across the country. With the largest segment of the population comprised mostly of seniors, this is a serious problem. Whether visiting medical professionals like nurses or compassionate and less-formally trained companions, there is a short supply of those willing and able to help care for and comfort the aging and infirmed. Sadly, too many of those in this field are undertrained and only receive basic instruction in CPR and first aid, if that. Compassion and supportive care go a long way and are important factors for serving this population signifying that caregivers who are properly trained remain essential.


Adding to this conundrum is that a large number of caregivers are themselves mature adults who may not be able to easily assist their patient in the event of a loss of balance, or worse, an actual fall. They may also soon “age out;” being less able to do this kind of work as times goes on.


Anyone with a desire to be of service to others, who has a fair amount of compassion and empathy, can become a caregiver. They can seek out appropriate training and class work through local community colleges and organizations like the Red Cross that regularly provide instruction in various levels of First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Caregivers also need to learn how to safely transfer people in and out of wheelchairs, cars or beds, with and without the use of lifts and pulleys, so that they themselves don’t get hurt while helping someone else. Organizational skills are also important to help those being cared for to get to their medical appointments on time, take medications on schedule, maybe shop and prepare meals, and generally help their charges live as comfortably as possible.


For many, taking on the role of caregiver happens when a member of their family needs extra help. That “little extra help” can morph into providing extensive assistance fairly quickly. When someone you care about is going through health issues that limit mobility, cognition, motor skills, etc. it necessitates familial participation to provide care and comfort. While trained specialists like physical or occupational therapists or nurses might be needed, the majority of care often comes – at least in the beginning – from family and those they engage to help with their loved one.


While providing care, family members can get in over their heads when their loved one requires more assistance than they can provide alone. All caregivers must be vigilant to avoid burnout. It happens frequently and contributes to a diminishing of their effectiveness. That’s when those with more experience in the caregiving role are brought in to provide further support. In many instances it may be necessary to find full time help or move their loved one to an assisted living facility (ALF) for a different level of care. ALF’s are also experiencing staffing issues.


Almost every “healthcare-adjacent” position is under-staffed. These are the kinds of jobs that can be fulfilling yet test one’s endurance, as well as their understanding of these inter-related specialized industries. Some might seek one of these positions to investigate how far they want to go in any one of these industries. For example, a job as a cashier in a pharmacy might be just the exposure someone needs to decide they want to pursue a career as a pharmacy tech or go back to school to become a pharmacist.


It will take a lot of people to go after and fill all of these kinds of jobs to end the current staffing shortages effecting the extended medical care communities. It starts with one person who enjoys what they do and who speaks positively about working in these fields that will propel others to likewise join the fold. It’s the only way we’re ever going to heal this problem. After all, these positions are all still essential.


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