Commentary: It’s a great year to celebrate CNA Appreciation Week

By Cheryl Heiks

For more than three months now, organizations like the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association ‒— which comprises approximately 75 licensed facilities backed by the American Health Care Association and is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for individuals by promoting high standards of care ‒— have been working tirelessly to increase understanding of the unique challenges of our health care providers and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The educational efforts are many and will continue as we rally support for prioritizing long-term care in the distribution of the resources necessary to keep our workers and residents safe.

National Certified Nursing Assistants Appreciation Week (June 18-24) gave us a wonderful opportunity to elevate communitywide gratitude and support for one of the most critical and courageous groups of unsung heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus. To me, “certified nursing assistant” is a misnomer, considering what these individuals do every day. While they do support nurses and doctors in providing services, CNAs are caregivers and are fully invested in an individual’s health and well-being and build patient relationships for years, forming a unique bond. They also work with other health care staff to provide personal care and emotional support when things get too frustrating or confusing and protect our loved ones from a virus not yet fully understood.

Moreover, CNAs are some of the most dedicated patient advocacy groups. They are the pipeline between patient and doctor, between a patient’s needs and top medical treatment. They are tireless advocates for change that will improve outcomes —‒ ranging from on-site administrative advances to patients’ rights policy and funding. This has become especially pronounced during recent COVID-19 testing mandates with outside groups attempting to stir negativity about our facilities.

The true advocates for senior citizens are on the front lines ‒— getting trained to work in the buildings, obtaining needed personal protective equipment and advocating for resources for residents and our workforce. CNAs support mandated testing, but they want to make sure it applies to all who come in contact with our residents. They also know that mandatory testing is one of the best ways to illustrate the urgent need for more supplies, staffing and funding in long-term care facilities.

Lastly, it is critical to remember that many of our CNAs invariably put patients’ health and well-being above their own —‒ because it is what they are entrusted to do. Their role has become more prominent than ever during COVID-19. I am sure many CNAs are exhausted as they take on added responsibilities to cover nonessential employees, pull extra shifts, expand their education on COVID-19-related specialized infection control, learn technologies to keep families connected and provide extra emotional support during a time of heightened anxiety.

But every time I engage with a CNA, I’m met with a smile, confidence and gratitude that they can be there for their “family” during these times.

Now more than ever, all Delawareans should honor CNA Appreciation Week by actively expressing their thanks. A few ways you can do this include:

• Heeding Delaware’s “stay home, stay safe” plea.

• Supporting facilities’ efforts to nurture the emotional well-being of residents and staff.

• Donating PPE to your local long-term care facility.

• Encouraging friends with loved ones in a long-term community to stay informed via the facility’s website and social media pages.

• Remembering that CNAs and all staff are doing everything to keep patients safe and that increases in reported COVID-19 cases will be driven by testing, not any lapse in protocol or care.

• Joining the workforce. Free temporary nurse aide training is available at educate.ahcancal.org/products/temporary-nurse-aide.

I thank and celebrate every CNA and everyone who works in long-term care for going above and beyond to keep our communities safe and optimistic about the future. As we move forward, it is important to remember that long-term care residents’, their families’ and their friends’ recognition of the danger that visits present to vulnerable individuals during the pandemic has kept many residents safe. We also know how important it is for our residents to interact with their families and friends. To that end, we are developing facility-specific opportunities for families and friends to safely interact, and we hope to implement these soon.

Cheryl Heiks is executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association.