What is it like to be working on the front lines of health care in Waterville during the coronavirus pandemic? Morning Sentinel reporter Amy Calder sought to find out with a pair of question-and-answer interviews with two women with decades of experience at Northern Light Inland Hospital.

Heather Merrow is a certified nursing assistant at Northern Light Continuing Care, Lakewood in Waterville.

Heather Merrow, 54, has worked for 23 years at Northern Light Continuing Care, Lakewood, and been a certified nursing assistant for 32 years.

Here are Merrow’s responses to recent questions:

What are your responsibilities and what is a typical day like?

I work on the Nursing and Skilled Rehab Neighborhood where we care for patients who are getting skilled rehab. It’s typically short stays for patients on this unit but can be longer at times depending on the patient’s rehab needs. I do everything from check vitals, help patients to the bathroom, comfort them, get them snacks, etc.

How has your job changed since the coronavirus pandemic started? (And, I know you love what you do, right?)

I love what I do at Lakewood! I feel like I make a difference in people’s lives every day. What’s changed since the virus came to Maine is just the feeling of uncertainty. Will our patients/residents be impacted; will we as staff be impacted? How will our community be impacted? We know we will all be impacted in some way, and that makes everyone uneasy. But we keep moving forward and doing the best job we can so that our patients and residents know we are here for them.

Some of my patients are worried about the impact to their day-to-day lives. It’s hard for them because we have a very restricted visitor policy right now to protect everyone at Lakewood. We have to find other ways for families to connect, like through FaceTime or Skype.

One of my patients was sad because his elderly wife at home couldn’t go out for coffee and toilet paper. So, after work I took coffee and TP to her. He was so happy I did that for him. Part of our job is to reassure patients in many different ways. Spending extra time with them, providing comfort, making them laugh. I love people and helping others is in my nature, so this is stuff I just love to do for people.

 

How are you doing, mentally, and how are your co-workers and patients feeling about all this?

For the most part I am doing pretty good, but I have my moments. I do try to be really strong at work — for my co-workers and for my patients.

But one day last week I went home and let my emotions out. It’s about the unknown. It helps that we are preparing a lot so we can be prepared for whatever happens. We’re all working hard to protect our residents and patients, and each other. It’s our job. There will be risks, but we are preparing and being safe.

 

How are you supporting one another during this?

We talk to each other, and we listen to each other, we try and find humor in the small things in this unusual and challenging time. We are a family at work and we take care of each other. I try to be positive and help others whenever I can.

 

How are you protecting yourselves, your families and one another?

Washing our hands often is one of the best actions anyone can take at work or at home. After work, I go home, put my clothes into the laundry and take a shower. Honestly, I feel very safe at Lakewood; it’s when I come out into the community that worries me. People are still going out and not social distancing.

I make it a priority to sleep. It’s important for those of us in health care to rest when we can and de-stress. Our patients and work family need us fresh for the next day.

 

Do you feel supported and protected as much as possible by your supervisors, administrators?

Absolutely, they are very protective of us and are communicating constantly about how to keep us safe. They bring us food and tell us we’re doing a great job. That feels good and keeps us motivated.

 

Is there anything else you want to add?

I am very involved in our community, with KVCAP, South End Neighborhood Association and many other activities. My husband and I believe in giving back to the community and being involved. We miss seeing people in person.

But our goal right now is to promote being kind and patient with each other, especially during this high stress time. We’re all in this together.


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