40 Dead, Now 40 Laid Off: Inside a Nursing Home in Crisis

When the state closed down swimming pools, his job at Clove Lakes became the couple’s only source of income. Staying home was no longer an option.

“When I came back, the supervisors and directors were staying in the home all night, and asking anyone to take extra shifts. Usually I don’t do that, but I volunteered because I knew that was going to happen anyway.” At home, he feared carrying the virus to his girlfriend’s mother and aunt, who lived in the same house, so he would strip his clothes and put them in the washer every time he returned.

At Clove Lakes, the virus shut down all of their ordinary activities, changing the relationships between the workers and the residents. The administration worked to get masks, gowns and other protective equipment, which many homes lacked. “We were wearing hazmat suits,” Mr. McArthur said, adding that it felt like being in a sauna. “I lost a lot of pounds. So I didn’t catch the quarantine weight like everybody else did.”

The emotional stress was unrelenting, he said. Once employees reported to the Covid unit, they could not leave or see other colleagues until the day’s end. Residents, especially those with dementia, often did not understand why their relatives were not visiting, why they could not leave their rooms and be with their neighbors for meals or activities.

“The worst was when you had to tell them they had to go back in their room, because the resident in the next room passed away, and you have to put them in a body bag,” Mr. McArthur said.

“One day you’ll see an ambulette come in and haul someone out and they’ll never come back,” Mr. McArthur said. “It is the worst experience to have.” Each death took a toll on the staff, but there was no time to grieve, he said. “You develop chemistry with someone, and it’s like they’re part of the family or a close friend. And we are all they have sometimes, especially after they stopped having visitors.”

The home did not provide counselors to help the staff deal with stress, but directed them to a hotline set up by the state office of mental health, Ms. Senk, the administrator, said.

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