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Acierno is president and CEO of LeadingAge Nebraska. Boddy is president and CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association.

Services provided by nursing homes and assisted living facilities are integral to the public health system and to older residents who need assistance with activities of daily living or have complex health care needs. Today, these unheralded health care providers are warriors in a fight against COVID-19 — battling around the clock to protect team members and the at-risk Nebraskans in their care.

Health care workers have always played an extraordinary role in the lives of Nebraska’s nursing home and assisted living facility residents. Now, through mainstream and social media, the rest of the world is learning the importance of these workers to our seniors as they heroically respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

We hear inspiring stories of long-term care facility workers who haven’t left their buildings for weeks at a time to minimize risk of exposure to the residents in their care. Some staff are even sleeping in RVs on campus — sacrificing time with their own families. We see communities banding together to support long-term care residents and staff with signs of encouragement or by sharing their musical talents. There are endless examples of workers finding creative ways to enrich the lives of residents with hallway bingo, art projects and connections with loved ones via technology, as they remain isolated from outside groups, family and friends.

The physical and emotional impact of the pandemic is unprecedented. Nursing home and assisted living staff are aggressively working to prevent and mitigate the virus’ spread while delivering compassionate care under the most challenging circumstances health care has seen in a century.

Among the key defenses against infection transmission is the use of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff and residents. Access to PPE continues to be a challenge in long-term care, resulting in providers issuing calls for hand-sewn gowns and face masks. They are forced to use ingenuity to protect residents, including using raincoats, trash bags and lab coats worn backwards as gowns. This lack of resources is a critical issue and an additional challenge for long-term care providers during a health crisis unlike any we have seen.

Nursing home and assisted living staff are the front-line warriors watching over our state’s most vulnerable. Additional workforce is also needed, especially as COVID-19 continues to move across our state. All types of team members are needed to serve our seniors, such as nurses, nursing assistants, maintenance workers, medication aides and dietary workers. Long-term care needs you.

It is vital that every community, civic organization, local business and Nebraskan rally behind their local nursing home and assisted living facility. Please consider contacting a long-term care provider in your community to see how you can help in their fight to protect residents from this virus, whether that be providing supplies, sewing garments, offering outdoor entertainment for residents, inquiring about a new career or even just saying “thank you.”

The seniors they are caring for are your elementary school teacher, childhood postman, sports team coach or relative. They built this state and our communities. Your help is critical during this unprecedented time.

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