When Things Get Back to “Normal”
COVID-19 is exposing deep, deep cracks in Ontario’s long term care system. Hopefully, if there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that for healthcare workers, things will never go back to “normal”
By Susan Siemens, Regional Director, Cambridge Member Centre
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stich a new garment. One that fits all humanity and nature.” —Brene Brown
Forgive me for the cliché of using a Brene Brown quote to begin this piece, but during one of my social isolation moments of incessant social media scrolling, this one captured my fleeting thoughts and gave me pause.
COVID-19 has been hard. Really hard. Unthinkably hard for some.
I am over staring out of the same windows in my house. I am over standing in long line ups at the grocery store wearing a mask. I am over “getting together” with my friends and family over FaceTime.
I’m over all of it. I’m ready for life to get back to normal.
Or am I? Is normal what I want to go back to?
In my work for CLAC, I represent people who we now refer to as healthcare heroes. They are dietary aides, housekeepers, cooks, PSWs, RPNs, and RNs, and they are on the front lines of the epicentre of the virus: long term care homes.
Before COVID-19, here’s what their “normal” looked like: short-staffed, underpaid, overworked, underfunded, overregulated, largely ignored, and worse, painted in a bad light by the media as “neglectful” or “abusive” to residents. Many hold two or more part-time jobs in their field because many long term care facilities have a limited number of full-time positions available.
And yet, they still showed up to work despite all this to care for our parents and grandparents in their last years of life.
The truth is that they were all heroes long before there was a global pandemic that highlighted the importance of their work.
COVID-19 has been unthinkably hard for many of our members working in long term care. They still work in the same conditions—short-staffed, underpaid, overworked—while at the same time battling to keep their residents safe from a deadly virus.
And now the Ontario government has mandated them to pick one place of work. While this is important for preventing the spread of the virus, it also means that many of our members may now struggle to pay their bills.
Unfortunately, it took COVID-19 to expose the deep, deep cracks in Ontario’s long term care system. But my hope is that if there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that for my members, things will never go back to “normal.”
I’ve seen other good things rising from the darkness of COVID-19 that I also hope will become our new normal:
• Neighbours who were complete strangers before, have come to rely on each other for community and even for necessities and survival.
• Friends are delivering care packages to other friends who are sad, lonely, and isolated.
• People are sharing material resources in an unprecedented way as we protect the vulnerable in our communities from the virus.
• Citizens are spending their limited budgets to support local businesses.
• In our country, and many countries around the world, we are seeing partisan politics evaporate as leaders work together to keep economies afloat and citizens safe.
• Globally, people are making the collective choice to stay home (where possible) in an unprecedented act of solidarity to prevent the spread of this virus. It’s remarkable.
A whole lot has gone wrong with COVID-19. We’ve witnessed a lot of darkness and death. Many other inequalities and social divides have been exposed.
But there’s also been so much beauty, so much good, so many things that I pray will stick and become our new normal when this thing passes.
It feels a bit strange to look for the good during such a dark time, but maybe COVID-19 is the reason that there’s less greed, hate, disconnection, fear, loneliness, and exploitation in the world. Many of us would welcome this new normal, not least of all our healthcare heroes who are out there every day caring for and protecting our vulnerable—just as they were doing long before COVID-19 hit.