BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Around the world, very few individuals and industries have escaped from the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed. Nursing, in particular, has faced the pandemic’s effects.
The field of nursing has had a reckoning, with nurses in hospitals, long-term care facilities and home care sometimes facing long hours, difficult conditions and many other challenges.
According to reports by the American Nurses Association, National Nurses United, American Association of Colleges of Nursing and several more organizations, there is a shortage of nurses. Several reasons are offered for the shortage, including the retirement of Baby Boomers, a mass exodus from the field due to current conditions, a lack of qualified faculty to teach incoming nurses and more.
While there are myriad reasons why facilities are experiencing a shortage of staff, there are still nurses working in hospitals, homes and long-term care facilities across the country. At Sunshine Communities in Maumee, the organization is recognizing the dedication of its staff during National Nurses Appreciation Week.
“We are part of the Sunshine family, where we care for and share in the lives of those individuals we serve,” said Joe Kelso, director of nursing at Sunshine. “This is a wholly unique and rewarding type of nursing, where you get to be a part of your patient’s life, not just for days or weeks, but for years.”
Thirty-six nurses, including registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), are a part of that family at Sunshine, between the main campus and homes throughout the community.
Charlene Koch, who works on campus, has been at Sunshine for nearly three decades. She knew in junior high that nursing was what she wanted to do. Koch spent more than 10 years working in a hospital as an LPN before the opportunity arose for her to make the move to Sunshine.
Koch has been able to experience the uniqueness of working in a long-term care facility and it is one of her favorite parts of the job.
“You have more of a connection in a long-term facility,” Koch said. “In a hospital, almost everybody is coming and going, but being in a long-term setting, you get to know people better.”
The individuals Koch has forged connections with are what make her job so worth it. Koch said seeing their excitement when she comes in to work brightens her mood.
The individuals she has met are also the reason she has altered her personal life, in order to better provide care.
“The individuals that I care for, a lot of them are not of age to be vaccinated (against COVID-19), so I’ve been more careful than, say, the average person,” Koch said. “Even though I’m vaccinated, I could still transmit it to them, so I have changed my personal life.”
Social distancing, masking, staffing shortages and more have changed industries across the globe, but it has also inspired people like Koch.
“In the past few years, the way our nurses have pulled together, supporting each other emotionally, physically, picking up shifts, everybody has each other’s backs,” Koch said. “That makes it a good place to work.”
The effects of the pandemic are widespread. In an industry that relies on a predictable quantity of nurses year after year, it can be difficult to understand the magnitude of a staffing shortage.
“We have had to adapt and make changes and sometimes make hard decisions to ensure we were able to continue to provide care to those we serve,” Kelso said. “Due to our strong and committed team, we have weathered the storm and are close to being back to the staffing levels we had pre-COVID.”
Being on the staff at Sunshine is something Mackenzie Tracy has enjoyed for several years. She started as a direct support professional (DSP) four years ago before joining a fast-track program and becoming a nurse at Sunshine almost two months ago.
Over the years, Tracy found a family among the individuals at Sunshine and the staff members she works beside.
“We’re a family. We all help each other and we all work together, and nobody will ever feel singled out in any type of way if they come join our family,” Tracy said. “I feel like once you work here, you’ll understand.”
Her desire to work at Sunshine was also inspired by her own family. Tracy’s daughter was born with a cleft lip. She knew her daughter would be looked at differently sometimes, and it sparked her desire to help others like her daughter.
Tracy’s work has given her the chance to care for individuals just like her own children, and each day is just as exciting as the last, she said.
“I feel like every day is a different challenge because it brings on new things,” Tracy said. “We’re not doing the same things over and over every day.”
With each new day and each new challenge, staff members are able to practice and hone their skills, something that Sharhonda Roscoe said she enjoys. Working in a facility like Sunshine requires staff to be well-rounded in their positions, she said.
“There’s just some skills, when you’re in a certain field, you don’t utilize,” Roscoe said. “Coming in and utilizing skills I have never touched before; it’s been very rewarding. I’ve learned things here I never thought I would touch before.”
Roscoe, who started as a DSP at Sunshine in 2003 before she became a nurse, knew in high school that she wanted to be in the field. She worked as a medical assistant and nurse aide prior to becoming a nurse, and Sunshine has been one of her favorite places to work.
“We are family for them here and I find that to be very rewarding,” Roscoe said. “We are in their home and I’m serving them in their home. I’m not just here giving them meds. I’m here dancing with them, I’m here singing with them, I’m here talking with them.”
Roscoe works with many individuals who are nonverbal. It has taught her to effectively communicate in different ways and to pay more attention to people and their reactions. The individuals at Sunshine have also taught Roscoe not to take things for granted and to live in the moment, she said.
Angela Lyons, who has worked in the field since 1991 and at Sunshine since 2011, has learned a lot from the industry, too.
Long-term care has taught her better time management to provide the best possible care for the individuals, she said.
“Having enough time to be able to read to them, to be able to engage – that’s the fun part for me, the engagement – and sometimes, you can’t always do that because of priority care and things that are really pressing,” Lyons said. “It’s hard to manage your time to get those moments.”
The balance of priorities is something Lyons has had to learn, but in a facility like Sunshine, she has been able to spend more time with individuals under her care and understands the benefits of that.
“A lot of other places where nurses are, there’s been this gradual change to take on more and more responsibility with less and less staff. It becomes dangerous. It’s a struggle,” Lyons said. “I just love that places like this have held on to the old-school, Florence Nightingale style, where it’s a lot of caregiving, a lot of love. It’s not just the medical things and rushing.”
Lyons’ love for the field is why she hopes to see more people join the community at Sunshine. She advises those who feel drawn to the field to try it out, even if it’s not as a nurse, but to experience caring for others.
“I really, really mean it when I say it. It’s been the best out of all the places that I’ve worked,” Lyons said. “I like this place the best because I feel like it’s been more like home to me.”
Sunshine is currently accepting applications for full-time and part-time nurses as well as medical technicians at the sunshine.org website.