Nursing home staffers received a special thank you Tuesday night at the Mayfield Graves County Country Club. Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman thanked more than 100 long-term care employees for their bravery and service to others during the Enduring Heroes gala.

ClearView Healthcare Management held Enduring Heroes events across the state Tuesday to honor employees who’ve worked for their long-term care centers since March 1, 2020. The Mayfield event honored employees of Green Acres Health Care, Mayfield Health and Rehabilitation and Mills Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center.

“I think about the heartbreak, the difficulty and the way that, whereas some folks had the opportunity to work remotely and change the way that they worked, you did not have the opportunity. You kept showing up, and you kept serving patients and their families even when it was scary,” Coleman told the gala attendees.

In an interview before her remarks, Coleman stressed the importance of thanking Kentucky’s frontline workers, and especially those in long-term care.

“They were hit early and they were hit the hardest, because they had in ways the most vulnerable population. And so they had a lot less time to adjust then the rest of us,” Coleman said, recalling the outbreaks that struck Kentucky nursing homes early in the pandemic. “But they kept going to work, and they kept showing up, and they kept caring for families in the worst of times.”

Nearly 1 in 5 health care workers quit their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a poll of 1,000 health care employees conducted in September by data intelligence company Morning Consult. ClearView Regional Director of Census Development Jennifer Rodgers said the company is grateful that it has been able to retain so many employees amid the trying ordeal that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that really says a lot about the people we hire and about the work environment at our centers,” Rodgers said.

In addition to the very real risk posed by the novel coronavirus, Rogers said nursing home employees have dealt with the emotional strain that risk carries with it.

“A lot of our employees have struggled with the fear of getting COVID, the fear of taking it home,” Rodgers said. She said many of them have family members who are immunocompromised. Many also had to homeschool their children or scramble to find day care when schools and child care facilities closed or limited their capacity in 2020.

“The world kind of stopped, but health care had to keep going,” Rogers said.

Coleman also recognized the struggles long-term care workers have faced over the past year-and-a-half.

“I can’t imagine the burden that they carried for their patients, for their patients’ families, as well as for their own families. And so I don’t know that there is ever anything that we could do that would even come close to repaying them for what they’ve done for us,” Coleman said. “But, showing up and saying thank you and letting them know how much we appreciate them is certainly something we can do.”

Lacey Shultz, who works in admissions at Mills Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, said the Mayfield and Graves County community has been supportive of long-term care workers

“A lot of people have shown their support during the pandemic,” Shultz said. “The community was very supportive.”

Shultz said she thinks the Enduring Heroes event is a great way to recognize those who have worked so hard during the pandemic.

The event was a well-deserved night out for those who’ve served some of their community’s most vulnerable members.

“Everyone got to dress up and come out,” Shultz said. “And I think that was really special to a lot of people, just because you don’t get to dress up all the time.”

Mills Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center Director Dusty Hayden said he was grateful for the opportunity to thank the staff at Mills and other facilities in the community.

“The normalcy of long-term care is different than any other health care setting. Our residents, that’s their home, and so when you take the home aspect out of it, sometimes it gets troublesome. But our staff, they’ve had so much just change. You know, wearing masks all the time and being extremely compliant with those things, because they know at the end of the day the number one priority is the residents,” Hayden said. “And they take that very seriously, and it just shows each and every day that they do.

Like Shultz, Hayden said Mills has received an outpouring of support from the community during the pandemic.

“As everybody knows, Mills was hit hard in the beginning of it, and just we had so much support from Mayfield, Graves County, had so much support from our city leaders,” Hayden said. “I just can’t express enough the gratitude we have — I have and our staff has — for those, that support in that time.”

For those looking for ways to show their support for long-term care facilities today, Hayden said visiting residents who have missed their loved ones goes a long way for both the residents themselves and the staff who care for them.

“You know, we’re still restricted on what we can do, but for that matter the residents love to see people, and staff love to see people,” Hayden said. “It’s a beautiful thing when you have music in the background because a church service is there or whatnot.”

He said the return of activities and visitors, while abiding by restrictions, can help bring a sense of normalcy for residents and staff.

Mayfield Health and Rehab Director of Nursing Bethany Crouch said the months without visitors were difficult for folks at her facility as well.

“The isolation, with no visits, it’s hard for the residents, so the staff had to step in and be the family for them,” Crouch said.

She agreed the Mayfield community has been an excellent support for nursing homes. She said another thing folks can do to help is pray for them and the people they care for.

Coleman said Kentuckians can also show their gratitude for health care workers by doing their part to fight COVID-19: Getting vaccinated, getting COVID-19 booster doses when eligible and by wearing masks while indoors in public places.

Gov. Andy Beshear proposed another way to say thank you in October. Beshear asked the Kentucky General Assembly to appoint legislators to a group to discuss dedicating $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to bonuses for essential workers who have continued to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislative leaders rejected that request, instead suggesting that Beshear put the proposal through the legislative committee process.

Coleman said the governor is still committed to the goal of providing those bonuses to health care heroes and other essential workers who have worked in-person while others were able to work remotely.

“I do know that, that will be a priority for his budget proposal. We’re still hammering out details, but overall it is absolutely the belief of our administration that our health care heroes deserve the bonus,” Coleman said.