The resilience, work ethic and sacrifice made by providers and staff during the current public health crisis were honored by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living on Thursday as it kicked off its 71st Annual Convention and Expo. 

“We’re going to use this as a time to really celebrate and honor the incredible work that you and your teams have done in your buildings, especially for the last seven months,” AHCA/NCAL president and CEO Mark Parkinson said during the virtual opening general session. 

“In early 2020, we were bracing for the impact of COVID, but in retrospect, we had no idea what we were in for,” noted Robin Dale, president and CEO of the Washington Health Care Association. 

The first recognized U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 occurred at a Washington state skilled nursing facility in late February. Dale noted that by the end of that first week, four nursing homes were affected, and by the end of March, 50% of SNFs and 25% of assisted living communities in the state were dealing with coronavirus. He explained that the first two months of the crisis were “a blur for us” with long work hours and few, if any, days off.

“But we did this knowing that our members and our frontline workers were working so much harder than we were. In those early days, they were going into those buildings and they were fighting what was essentially an unknown killer, while at the same time try to mentally and emotionally process the number of residents that they were losing and so quickly,” Dale said. 

“It was particularly devastating for our frontline workers, but there was no time to be afraid. There wasn’t time to be in shock. I literally saw our members and workers roll up their sleeves and just get to work. For the last seven months, that’s what they’ve been doing,” he added. 

Since then, Dale said, residents, family members and surrounding communities all have come together to support each other and fight COVID-19. 

“I’ve been in this sector for nearly 30 years. I’ve never experienced a more harrowing time, but I’ve never been prouder to be associated with this sector and to know the members and the workers,” he said. 

Parkinson said that telling such stories is important and thanked Washington state caregivers in particular for having “shown incredible love and compassion.”

Dale’s comments were followed by a moment of silence for all those in long-term care who have died from the disease. 

“Since March, we have been victims of a virus that we just couldn’t control and that’s because its spread through asymptotic carriers which is completely different from viruses that we’ve faced in the past,” Parkinson noted. 

“You and your teams did not give up,” despite not having adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and access to testing, he said while praising session attendees for their “amazing resiliency.”