‘Stressed and overwhelmed’: Md. health care worker keeps fighting to be strong for her patients

While staffing shortages stretch health care teams to the limit, there are moments for which to be grateful, according to someone on the front lines of personal care.

LaToya Francis, 34, of Northwest, D.C., describes her job as a certified nursing assistant at BridgePoint Hospital’s Nursing Home Unit as “hands on,” being the eyes and ears to nurses and doctors by helping people with personal needs such as changing and bathing.

“And holding hands when they need comfort in the middle of the night because they can’t sleep or they’re worried or they miss their family,” Francis said.

She covered her overnight shift Wednesday solo, taking care of more people on her unit than she was supposed to have all by herself.

“Thankfully, I had great nurses that I work with. But I’m not always fortunate to be in a situation where I’m in a great team work environment; everybody doesn’t work as well together anymore because we’re all so stressed,” she said.

Three years into the pandemic, Francis said it’s hard to still be strong and give the best care that she can for patients when she’s personally struggling internally and working to the bone with an aching back and pulled muscles.

“And you’re doing the best that you can to just push through.”

LaToya Francis was designated a “Jewel of the Month” representing the long-term care units side of her facility last October. (Courtesy LaToya Francis)

On a day-after-day basis Francis said the work can be “overwhelming” and has brought her anxiety levels to places she didn’t know she had. Feelings of fear, stress and panic sometimes lead to tears.

“I literally retreat and cry,” she said. “I retreat and cry sometimes and have to literally go in the corner and ‘whoosah pray’ and get it together and put on my best smile behind my mask and be strong for my patients because it’s hard seeing them hurt. It’s hard seeing them not being able to be with their families in this pandemic the way that it is; and people are struggling the way that they are and we’re struggling the way that we are.”

So, why does she stay? For the same reason she joined. Francis said finding her way into health care was easy having always been the type to try to help people by babysitting or cleaning houses in the neighborhood.

LaToya Francis lives with her family in Northwest D.C. (Courtesy LaToya Francis)

“I love people first and foremost, and the joy it brings when I get to shave somebody that hasn’t been shaved, or when I get to bathe somebody outside of their scheduled bed/bath day, or outside of their scheduled shower day get to wash their hair just to make them feel good,” she said.

When so many other people in the profession are choosing to leave it behind, Francis is looking ahead and has given her effort a hashtag: #CNA2RNGOALS.

She said a nursing group on Twitter has begun crowdsourcing to help pay for nursing school. This comes after an article that appeared on The Washington Post describing her experience.

“I literally just bought my laptop today so I can start doing what I need to do — I’m sorry, I’m trying not to cry,” Francis said, pausing briefly. “So I can start studying and taking practice tests and doing the things that I need to do to take those steps to get ready for school, and I’m actually going to be putting in my application today. So there’s that good news!”

Asked whether she has a message to share, Francis said, “I get the fact that all of the pressure that we’re under on a daily basis just makes it feel like for the amount of pay that we get is not enough; I get that you feel like your complaints aren’t being heard, but just keep fighting and they’re being heard.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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