Let me first start off by saying this: Think of a job you think you can’t do, due to the harshness of it. Being a nurse aide or nurse assistant will top it. This position is one of the few thankless jobs a person can do . Now I do not by any means want to trivialize this career choice. Quite the contrary. If you are an aide, realize that few people could do the job you are doing. I should say there will always be more positions available than people to fill those positions. The medical world is building more facilities due to folks living longer and needing assistance.
Being a nurse aide/assistant in a geriatric facility is a job like no other I can personally think of. You are expected most of the times to do the job of easily 2 or 3 people. The call off rate is always high, and really even that statistic is understandable. More on that later in article. To fully understand the strains of this job you must realize that the aide is working in a place where first thing in the early AM there are call bells going off, some disoriented folks are trying to get out of bed unattended, there may be some very vocal patients who in turn wake up the sleeping ones. So arriving at the job, the aide most likely gets a “report”. This means she gets to hear about the prior shift and all the chaos that happened. This is also a time when the aide may get their work orders for the day. Whose blood pressure to get, who to shower, who to weigh, who to walk 50 feet, and then they begin their day.

As their day begins, breakfast is not far off. You would find that some folks get up for breakfast, others stay in bed due to a variety of reasons. This all takes time . As the aides begins to assist the resident with dressing, and the aide deems it safe to check on the patient next door, they may arrive back to patient 1 and discover that the patient removed the clothes that the aide assisted with. Therefore requiring the aide to begin again. Meanwhile the call bells persist and quite possibly the nurse is requesting information on a patient not yet gotten up. Sometimes it seems like the nurse cannot “see” how busy things are.

As breakfast is started, most likely there are many patients to assist and/or feed. This is not a fast process as you can imagine. Poor teeth may require the patient to chew slowly and they may experience difficulty in swallowing. This again all takes time. But the message here is to multiply that by many. It is quite possible that on any given day you would have several to feed and then you would have to do that as well as possibly serve coffee, clean up spills, answer call bells of those patients still in their rooms, etc…

Following breakfast, the work begins again to potty all patients and ready them for doctor visits, haircare at the facility beauty shop, showers for those scheduled, etc….. Please understand that the hecticness of everyday is surreal. If family members are expected to visit, aides try hard to get the male patients shaved and hair combed, lipstick applied, etc to be looking like mom or dad for the family. Again, remember the call bells and buzzers continue to ring.

You may ask how I came to have my sources. Well for this article, I personally worked 19 years in a geriatric facility and I personally could not do it again. It was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done but truly some of the thankless work as well. Many families could not understand why “mom” was not all ready to go when they arrived for an outing. Well there is really no polite way to say that “mom” had to be showered again due to a bowel movement in her chair. Sometimes, it just did not matter what the reason was, families did not want to hear it.

The flip side of that was families that would compliment you for the smallest things and engage you about your own family. They seemed to realize that the nurses aides were their extended family for mom and dad when they , the family could not be there. Many times we would sit with them when they were feeling lonely or confused and dry a tear or hold a hand. We were often the people who had to explain where their husband of 50 years was. There is no easy way to tell someone their husband passed away 12 years ago.

Sometimes when you understood the family was having a difficult time with putting their loved one in our facility, we would do our best to compliment them on such a hard decision and reassure them we would do anything we could to make the transition period a smooth one. It is almost like the aide wears many hats during an 8 hour shift. The real crime for all this is the pay scale. It is not uncommon to be paid $7.00 and hour and the responsibilities are overwhelming.

As mentioned before, call offs are rampant in facilities like this. It usually stems from an overworked staff and in adequate staff to fill positions. Nurse aides usually have a variety of jobs opportunities to choose from from many facilities. Many times the staff people who already worked their shift are “mandated” to work another. This is no good for anyone mentally or physically. If this happens alot, the facility is likely to experience a rash of injuries due to overworked staff and staff making shortcuts to get the job done. Back injuries in this field are huge, despite in service training that is given.

The next time you have reason to visit a geriatric facility, please take a moment and speak with the staff. If you are happy with their loving care, please be diligent about telling the Director of Nurses and the administrator.