When the world shut down in March, 2020, during the initial pandemic panic, most people’s first thought was not to find a job as soon as possible. Marissa Toney is not most people. Immediately, she searched for and found an assisted living facility and applied for a job.
“I really don’t know if I could pick a single most important thing that I do for the people I take care of,” said Toney. “Every single thing is just as important as the next.” Direct-care workers are a part of their clients’ everyday lives, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.
Direct care is a demanding profession that requires a very special type of personality. “A good education helps, but it really goes more into personality and temperament,” said Toney. “There are such hard days that you will experience.”
Beyond the temperament that is crucial for direct-care work, Toney said that it is painfully obvious when new direct-care workers have not been trained appropriately. Still, having enough staff to spare the time and energy to properly train new employees has been a challenge in recent years.
“Staffing ratios have been such a struggle since I began working in this field,” said Toney. During the summer of 2021, Toney and her coworkers worked 80-hour weeks consistently to meet the needs of those they cared for. The mental and physical toll on them was enough to drive many of them close to quitting, including Toney.
“We make less than fast-food workers and we are responsible for the care of our elders and making their last days memorable,” said Toney. She said that the field would be exceedingly more appealing to people if pay and appreciation were to increase.
Despite the temporary appeal of leaving the direct-care field, Toney was pulled back into the profession every time. “The feeling of someone appreciating you and depending on you every day is a feeling that I love,” she said.
The human aspect of caring for people and their families is what keeps many direct-care workers in the profession.