Changing Public Perceptions of Direct Care Professionals
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Changing Public Perceptions of Direct Care Professionals

Let me take you back to 1996. I was working in a cheese factory and was notified that the factory was closing. My husband is disabled, so I needed to find a job to help support my family. There was an ad in the paper that the local nursing home was running a certified nursing assistant class. I thought, "I can do that"—I used to babysit and I do know how to change diapers. The first week was classroom instruction and the second week was instruction and skills training. After the two weeks, we took the CNA test and I passed.

The nursing home offered me a 72-hour position on second shift. I was supposed to receive a one week orientation, but that did not happen. The first night I worked, one of the other workers called in sick and I ended up working alone. I was responsible for ten residents. Toileting, repositioning, getting them up from a nap, monitoring the wanderers, getting them to the dining room for supper, and assisting those who needed help eating. After supper, I needed to make sure everyone got back to their room, toileted, repositioned, washed up for bed, or showered, and assist them to bed. Then there was charting and rounds. That first shift finally ended. On my drive home that night I asked myself, "What did I get myself into?" The training I received the previous two weeks did not prepare me the way it should have. I went back for my next shift and was lucky enough to be on the wing with an experienced CNA. She took me under her wing and became my mentor. Thanks to her, I fell in love with the job and stayed on second shift for five years.

A cook's position opened. I'm not sure why, but it paid more than doing the personal care, so I signed for the job. I figured I would still get to see the residents in the dining room, and I helped on the floor when they needed me, which happened with regularity.

After a year in the kitchen I took an office position. It was Monday through Friday, no weekends, and more money and I could still see the residents during the day. Well it wasn't long before I was doing all three jobs. Eventually this became too much and I made the difficult decision to leave the nursing home, after seven years of dedication to the residents. That was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.

Leaving was so difficult because of the relationships I had built with the residents. The elders I [End Page 137] cared for gave me more than I could ever give them. Sure, I took care of their basic needs, but they gave me an ageless wisdom. When I was able to take the time to listen they gave me history lessons (because they lived it), and life lessons. One gentleman was in the WWII, and he taught me the importance of freedom and not to take it for granted. This same fellow taught me how to count to ten in German.

Another elderly gentleman I cared for was very special to me. We hit it off from the time of his admission. The day after he passed away, his son called to ask me to be a pallbearer for him, of course I did and was honored that I had touched his life in a special way.

I remember the first time a resident died while I was working. I was scared and not sure of what to do. Remember that mentor I mentioned earlier—she taught me how to care for a dead person. She also told me that washing up a dead person and getting them ready to go to the funeral home was the last good thing I could do for that person.

I wanted to stay in the profession of direct care because I could make a difference, so I applied for a job with a home health agency. It just so happened that they had a client...