The Nursing Home Aide Who Decided to Quit Rather Than Work While Sick with COVID
Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.We asked people who quit in 2020 how and why they did it. You can read more about the project and find every story here. Got your own quitting tale? Send us an email.
Emma Walker, 26
Position: Nurse aide, TLC Adult Care CenterStarted: November 20, 2019Quit: November 27, 2020Salary: $10.50 per hour, 12 hours per day (every other day)
As told to Isabela Dias
In early December, a local news station first reported that Emma Walker, and others, quit the TLC Adult Care Center, an assisted-living facility and nursing home in West Newton, Pennsylvania, because of what employees said was inadequate pandemic response. “It’s not being handled properly at all,” Walker told the station. She, and other workers, alleged that the owners failed to even provide proper protective equipment. According to data reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there was an outbreak at the facility: 27 residents and 11 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. (Less than five deaths have been reported, the state says.) Contacted multiple times for comment, The TLC Adult Care Center’s owners did not address the specific incidents and alleged failures to meet pandemic safety requirements outlined in this article.
I first started after I left my kids’ father and I was looking for work. I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do with my life back then.
My stepmom’s friend told me about this job. She had issues there with the owners, but she said that it was a good place to work. I ended up applying and getting the job without having no experience or background.
I found out after working there that I love doing it. I loved that one-on-one with the people. I looked at it like they were my grandparents. I took care of them and gave them everything they needed. And I could feel the love they gave me.
Because I worked overnight, we cleaned the whole building and then we got the residents up. We washed them and got them dressed and ready for the day. We had 17 people we had to do. There were people who requested me to do it because I knew their routine, I knew everything they liked. Say someone wanted lotion on their feet, I knew that’s what they wanted. And I wouldn’t skip over that because I wanted to get my job done. I did it because that’s what they wanted. I tried to keep everything normal, how they would have done things day to day at home.
Whenever I first started, it was fine, everything was fine.
And then this coronavirus situation hit.
On November 25, 2020 is whenever the owner Stephanie Short called and told us about a positive resident in our building. We’re thinking she’s the one that brought it in. A couple of days prior to that, on a Monday, she changed the schedule. Her son got it at school and then she was taking care of him, we found that she was asymptomatic, and she continued to come into work until she found out she was positive.
Then a resident got positive.
It started to get real shady after that. We moved the one resident that was positive into a private room that had somebody else in it and that person got moved to her bed, instead of quarantining the positive and the roommate. They switched it up and cross contaminated, which we all questioned and we were told that it was fine. The first initial resident would come out of her room all the time. They were just letting her.
Even before the positive, whenever they first started getting sick, we could tell because of the coughing, and the body aches, and a lot of them would get confused. When a lot of them started having breathing problems, we knew right away that’s what it was. We were saying that they were probably positive. We got told that it was probably a cold. If we were getting tested regularly, we would have caught it faster.
The only thing that they did provide us was one N95 mask. We had to provide our own mask before the N95s were given to us. That was in the beginning of November, whenever we got fitted for them. That was the only really thing that they did for us and got for us. They told us to use hospital gowns to protect us, instead of giving us proper PPE, which is the gowns that have full length sleeves that go all the way into your gloves and that way you’re not exposed.
I feel it in my heart that it’s negligence.
Then Thanksgiving, on the 26th, is whenever we all started having symptoms. I got called to come in. I didn’t have a babysitter until my scheduled time to be there at seven o’clock pm. The owner told me to bring my kids in there. I kind of fought with her about it. I told her that it wasn’t right to bring my own children who were five and three at the time. That made me think: “Does she really care about what’s going on to risk my kids going in?” But me being me, I let that go. I had to wait until I had a babysitter, and I did go in.
On Friday, I started getting more symptoms of COVID. I expressed to her that I was starting to feel sick, but I was still going to come in because I knew she needed me because we were understaffed. I was already on my seventh day of working without having a day off. On my eight day, I went to the hospital because I was having like an asthma attack type symptoms. That’s when they confirmed that I had COVID.
I had a paper saying that I had to quarantine and she told me that it was impossible for me to quarantine because she didn’t have enough staff members and she couldn’t come in until that following Wednesday when she was done quarantining. Well, I made the decision not to go in at all. I was so sick; I could barely move. My body hurt so bad. My oxygen levels dropped. My mom came and she started taking care of me. I’m actually pretty healthy, I was so shocked of how sick I got. I was quarantining away from my kids for a total of 12 days.
I didn’t want to go in until we had the proper equipment to take care of the positive people. As I got sicker and sicker throughout, I didn’t want to risk my life. With my kids I was just scared that I would give it to them, and they would have it worse than me.
The owners kept texting and calling me. My mom actually answered the phone one time and my mom was like, she has literally been in bed for four days and she physically can’t. When I called back, she said: “Is there any chance that you’ll go work tonight?” My voice is still raspy from it, I couldn’t finish sentences. I could barely breathe and then doing a 12-hour day with a mask on already not being able to breathe… I couldn’t do it.
There have been four people who died. They were completely fine before all this happened. She didn’t tell any of the family members until I think the third one died. They still haven’t even confirmed that it was COVID-related.
Four days into quarantining I decided to quit. I texted saying I wasn’t coming back.
I was looking out for the well-being of myself and my kids. That does kind of sound selfish, but I put my kids before anybody else anyway. Part of me didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to leave because of the residents. I cared so much for them and I didn’t want their needs to be ignored because I wasn’t there to fulfill my job. I’m not getting no rise or no gains from this. I did it because I care for the people who live there. I obviously felt kind of sad because I do have a big heart. I feel like I abandoned them. I know that they miss me and that breaks my heart because I left so suddenly. I kind of gave no warning. I know they’re not going to get the exact care that I gave them. I just don’t want them to have anger towards me. I know most of them will understand because they knew I had to care for my babies.
They started pointing fingers at us like it was our fault. Supposedly, I’m being blamed for bringing it in on Thanksgiving. She’s—Stephanie, the owner—telling family members that an employee brought it in because her mother had it. She’s also telling the family members that they are fine and that they’re handling everything properly. They weren’t whenever I was there. But I can’t say now because I’m not there anymore.
Now, my other concern is not having a job. I have my own house. I have bills to pay. But it’s a risk I had to take. I can find another job. Next thing is for me to get better. I still have to test negative to even move on.
I would like to still be in this field. I do want to get certified. It’s a lot harder being a single mom going to school and needing a job to keep a roof over our heads. But I’ve gotten through with their abusive dad, I can go through this. I know I can make it work for us. If I were to stay in this field, I would want to make sure that the owners are taking every precaution because it’s still going to be around. It’s not just in that building.
I know people quit right after me. I think me doing it kind of gave them the courage to. They were all having the same exact experiences as I was.