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01 Jul 2020

A new understanding of frontline care workers and face masks during COVID19.

With Caremark Limited National Operations Manager – Harinder Dhami.

“Our Care and Support Workers leave their homes every morning and wear a face mask, often in confined spaces such as bathrooms so they can provide personal care to those who need it. I simply cannot comprehend this and the mental strength they have in doing this is remarkable.”

Since lockdown Harinder has been working from home as many of us have, but recently found that in order to effectively support one of the Caremark offices, she needed to leave the safety of her home and visit one of the offices in the network. Accompanied by a Regional Support Manager, she recollected “I received the appropriate PPE and did not give any further thought to this, my mind was more on the task that I was to carry out and how best to support the franchisee.”

Arriving at the office the following day she put on the PPE which consisted of gloves, an apron and a face mask “Immediately I had issues with the mask, I found wearing the mask incredibly claustrophobic and restrictive.”

Anyone who knows Harinder knows she is a confident individual with a real can do attitude, but she found this whole new experience somewhat unnerving “I found the mask intrusive, a barrier and I experienced the obvious physical limitations, but also, to my surprise, it affected me emotionally.” She found the breathing a real challenge, she felt as though “the inner child was telling me to remove the plastic bag from my head” feeling as though she was taking in a fraction of the air required to breath, “I found myself going into the corridor intermittently to pull down the mask so that I could breathe and feel safe and free again. Psychologically the face mask ended up taking precedence and not the reason of my visit. I became incredibly angry that the face mask had this amount of control over me and my ability to carry out my job. Once I was left on my own, I was able to take down my face mask and felt my normal confidence return and I was able to continue with the job in hand.”

Feeling angry that this “little bit of material” had so much control over her ability to carry out the job and dictated her emotions she went onto say “I felt like a prisoner with my liberty taken away which was incredibly scary and feeling out of control.”

Advice Harinder often imparts is to not let others dictate emotions, but she felt she had let the mask and associated PPE control her emotions “I hated this experience and even over a week later I still remember the intrusive, suffocating trauma it caused me.”

The meeting itself was harder than usual, but empathising with the Care and Support Workers further she said “communication is around many factors including facial expressions, when clients get older we tend to rely on facial expressions so we can determine whether they are happy or in pain however when you are unable to see these emotions I felt much was lost through the PPE barrier.”

Whilst driving home she was disappointed with herself “I pride myself on understanding others and having empathy, but do I?” She reflected that she had previously been focused in trying to source PPE so that our Care and Support Workers were safe and once they were given PPE the job was done. “I never gave a second thought on the impact on wearing a face mask would have on a Care and Support Worker and on the client. Without them we would not have a business, we must remember to continue to value our frontline staff once Covid 19 is over and remember that they put their own lives and their families at risk so that those they support can receive the emotional and physical support they require. Not just in an office like me on this day.”

“Some consider Care and Support Workers as unskilled; I say no, they are in a league of their own, legends, displaying both mental and physical strength all day long, day in day out.”

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