Delaney Partlow worked two months at Four Seasons Care Home in Northfield before Covid hit. She was 16 and in her first health care job, working a shift a week as a personal care assistant.
Now 17, Partlow, who lives in Orange, knew Covid was a risk; the Medical Professions program at Central Vermont Career Center in Barre wasn’t allowing job placements because of the virus. She got the gig anyway through a family friend.
Partlow, who has a quick smile and long blond hair that frames her face, is used to taking matters into her own hands. She works two jobs, including a second as a cashier at a Hannaford Supermarket, on top of her schoolwork. Partlow decided on a career in health care after visits to see her grandmother who worked as a licensed nursing assistant at Woodridge Nursing and Rehabilitation for 30 years.
She hopes one day to be a gynecologist, but “I have to start somewhere.”
So she did: She spent her weekly shift cleaning up after people, mopping the floor, feeding dinner to residents, helping them get ready for bed.
The first case came on Nov. 10 — a resident went to the hospital for a stroke and tested positive for Covid. Partlow and her colleagues assumed it was a false positive. But then a new round of testing returned more positives. And then more.
All but one of the facility’s 32 residents ultimately came down with the virus, as did more than a third of the staff, Partlow said. The facility went into lockdown. The facility was so short-staffed, the Health Department gave sick staff members permission to work. One resident, who had underlying health conditions, died.
For Partlow, while she didn't get sick herself, the sense of widespread fear and uncertainty was stressful. “I was, like, freaking out about myself and about all the other residents and if everyone's gonna be OK, and what it’s going to look like,” she said.
She feared she would pass on the virus to her mom, who has a weakened immune system. One night, she recalled, she just came home and cried.
The situation was particularly confusing for residents, a number of whom have dementia. Many were asymptomatic, or had mild symptoms. Some refused to wear masks or tried to leave their rooms. Partlow, who was assigned to answer the phone, said family members were angry and fearful.
When residents took off their masks, she told them “it’s serious, it was serious, even though you felt fine.”
Parlow picked up more shifts, working extra evenings and weekends. She plated dinners for the residents, cleaned “every surface,” and tried to stay away from her sick coworkers.
In moments of deep angst, she questioned herself. “Like, why am I doing this? Why do I even want to like to go into this field?” she recalled thinking. “This is horrible.”
Covid has left its mark not only on the patients it infects, but on the workers who care for them. Some studies report that as many as a third of health care workers are experiencing trauma-related stress. It has left medical workers in some facilities to watch helplessly as their charges succumb to the virus. In other cases, it has forced workers to navigate the fear and uncertainty of the unknown.
Working on the front lines, “it's going to be unpredictable. And it's going to be challenging,” Partlow said. “You have to prepare for the worst.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated with a new headline.
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