Being Courageous

Members | October 20, 2020 | by Carol Silver Elliott

A note about courage from LeadingAge board chair Carol Silver Elliott.

There was a time when I thought that courage was the act of confronting something physical that scared you. Courage was summiting Everest or riding wild rapids or the kind of intestinal fortitude it took to take on one of those professions where fear is your constant companion, like firefighters or police or a career in the military. Those are the folks who run towards rather than away in times of danger.

But these last months have taught me that, while those examples are forms of courage, we have seen courage all around us during this pandemic. We have seen the courage of our staff who gird themselves in PPE and go into a room, without hesitation, to care for someone who is COVID-positive. We have seen the grit that it takes to come to work every day when your family is telling you not to come, that you are putting your life at risk. We have seen people take on roles that are far outside their comfort zone because they know that it has to be done. We have seen person after person make a choice to run towards the danger regardless of the risk to themselves.

It has not been easy for any of us. We’ve had staff whose spouses were told not to come to work because they were married to someone who worked in a nursing home. I’ve heard stories from my colleagues of people who were denied service because they devote their lives to caring for older adults. And, of course, who can forget the media’s relentless onslaught, branding us with terms like “death pits” and treating all eldercare providers as villains who are carelessly throwing away the lives of the frail and vulnerable. Yet, against all odds, we have swallowed our fears, tamped down our anxieties, quieted the voices urging us to step away and stayed committed and focused.

I am overwhelmed by the courage and bravery of our team and have heard similar stories from many organizations and many of my colleagues. I think of the young woman who works in housekeeping on our assisted living campus. During the worst days in April, when many staff were ill, this woman offered to come to the nursing home campus and clean the COVID rooms. She has young children and a husband but her response, when asked why she did this, was that “someone had to do it.” I watched as our recreation staff, head to toe in PPE, brought an iPad into a room to help someone have a virtual visit, a visit that might, and sometimes was, their last. One of these staff members told me that she would wake up every night in tears as she saw the faces of those elders whom she had helped, the ones who lost their battle with the virus. The stories go on and on.

Now as we head into fall, we are potentially facing this enemy again. We are tired, with what a friend of mine dubbed “COVID fatigue,” and we just want this to end, to find the light at the end of this long tunnel. But I know with absolute certainty that, should we need to draw on our supply of courage, it is still there in abundance. We will be there for our elders, we will be there for our staff, and we will be there for each other. Of that, I have no doubt.