How the pandemic has changed the way we work (Part 2)

By Barbara Sheehan
Posted 12/11/20

Even for those who are not necessarily employed in essential services, such as grocery stores and hospitals, work must continue, albeit from a safe distance.

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How the pandemic has changed the way we work (Part 2)

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The impact of COVID-19 on the working lives of people in our community will likely continue long past the crisis phase of the pandemic.  Even for those who are not necessarily employed in essential services, such as grocery stores and hospitals, work must continue, albeit from a safe distance.   The following are stories of how COVID-19 has changed work for two area residents.

Elizabeth Charlick Bray, Esq.

If you ask Chestnut Hill resident Elizabeth (Lizzie) Charlick Bray, 36, what she does for a living, her answer has three parts, “I am a mother, a home school teacher, and a lawyer.”

After twelve years of marriage, she filed for divorce in May of 2019, and since has been the sole custodial parent of Callie, her three-year-old daughter. A corporate lawyer by profession, she was most recently employed as a contract attorney for Google, a job that ended just before the pandemic lockdown began.

She decided not to take on a new job immediately, so she could care for her daughter when preschool closed or had reduced hours.  She worried about needing to be consistent in her work.  “Professional reputation is everything to me and I didn’t want to have my work affected.”  

When her daughter’s preschool, The Godard School in Plymouth Meeting, first closed in March of 2020, the school provided an online program of activities, which Charlick Bray found daunting. “I was prepping for each day.  Everything was hands-on.”

Callie started at the preschool program at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) in October so she would be closer to home, especially when hours were shortened or the program was open intermittently.  Happily, Callie is very resilient and adaptable.  “She took to mask-wearing pretty easily,” said Charlick Bray, “but I don’t use the word COVID around her.  I’ll just say, ‘the germies are around and that’s why school is closed.’ ” 

Charlick Bray has been anxious to go back to work. “I am applying for jobs, but things are up in the air with school closings.” Most recently the school reduced their hours to close at 3 p.m.  She worries about a complete shutdown again as the cases of COVID spike in the coming weeks.    

With any new job, she explained, “there is always a period of trust-building, and that is even more critical when you are working remotely.”  For example, she said, “I’m trying to interview for jobs on the phone– while I have my daughter in the car in the background.” It’s not what corporate employers expect to to see during an interview.

She would like to go into an office and to engage in person with co-workers.  Her daughter is ready to participate in activities such as dance classes or sports.  “But now it is all virtual,” she said. “It has all come to a halt and I have to explain.”

When the pandemic is over, Charlick Bray hopes that the corporate environment will be different. “Those business that will succeed,” she said, “will trend towards working at home, flexibility regarding working parents, not just women, the men too.”

Mira McEwan, RN

Chestnut Hill resident Mira McEwan, 52, works as a nurse in a long-term care facility, where she does three 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shifts per week.   From her point of view, she said, “the situation has been pretty grim.”  Over the course of the pandemic, the nursing home has opened up partially, and then shut down again.  When the facility shuts down, the residents are confined to their private rooms. They can’t go to the dining room. There are no activities, no visitors, and no socializing with other patients.  

According to McEwan, “the folks started languishing…I have seen setbacks with certain people.” McEwan explained, “Depression, cognitive function, and the loneliness.”  

She often hears people express sympathy for nursing home residents now because they can’t see their families. “But it is not just that,” she explained. Many of the residents didn’t have frequent visitors before the pandemic.  But, she said,  “they would go to activities, to lunch, to a sing-along.”

During a lockdown, “there is no human contact,” except for staff. With up to 20 residents in her care, McEwan said, “I run from room to room…I can’t spend time with everyone, but I evaluate who needs it the most.”

Wearing a mask or other protective equipment with a resident can add to the sense of isolation.  Many are hard of hearing, and a mask makes communication even more difficult.  

McEwan contracted COVID herself from two residents early in the spring, one of whom has died as a result. She said her symptoms were not that debilitating. Fortunately, the people at home in her “bubble” –her husband, daughter, and grandchildren–were not affected.  While she was home in quarantine, she attended that resident’s funeral on Zoom.

McEwan is happy that she has meaningful work, can help with her grandkids, and spend more time with her husband. While there have been staffing shortages at her job, “It’s not like we are treating really sick people and running out of space.”  She feels more for the people working in hospitals. 

McEwan would prefer fewer restrictions for the residents in her care.  “What I would like to see – complete fantasy on my part – is no precautions,” she said.  She is concerned for their quality of life. “For many of these people, life is not worth living.”

Could things have been handled better? McEwan thinks so.  “If it [the government] could have shut everything down and resolved it sooner. Now it has to be all or nothing, because if things spread, it will just get worse.”

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