My Assisted Living Residents Are Like Family — and I'm Helping Them (Remotely) Connect With Theirs Too

Shirley Copper as told to Beth Dreher
Photo credit: Shirley Copper
Photo credit: Shirley Copper

From Good Housekeeping

Shirley Copper, 63, is a resident wellness associate at Candle Light Cove, an assisted living community in Maryland. These communities aren't nursing homes, but the risk profile of residents and workers are similar. Across the country, long-term care residents and employees account for one third of the deaths from coronavirus. Shirley reports that no one at Candle Light Cove has tested positive.

I’m a caregiver for about 15 residents in the memory care unit of our facility. You might think they’re all elderly, but the youngest ones are in their 50s. They all suffer from dementia, some more severe than others. Six days a week, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., I help with all the tasks they can’t do for themselves including bathing, dressing, eating, and reminding them of their schedule. Every day, I get the residents out and about. We play board games like bingo, and when the weather is nice, we head out to the courtyard for some fresh air. They love our daily workouts. We work on balance and do leg exercises and stretches. We just have fun. I love all of my residents.

Photo credit: Shirley Copper
Photo credit: Shirley Copper

I have been doing this for about 30 years at various facilities. One year, I decided to try another kind of work, so I got a job at a factory putting together drills and other tools. That wasn’t for me at all. I missed the personal interaction with the residents. Some of the family of my residents call and ask for me by name. They say, “Shirley, you know how I like my dad’s hair combed.” Or, “Has my sister been eating?” They know I’m not just here for a paycheck. I care for the residents like they’re my own family. The residents may have memory problems, but they remember me. Recently I was away on vacation for a week, and when I got back, one of my residents called me over and said, “Shirley, I missed you. Where’d you go?”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I was scared at first. Never in a million years did I think we’d be facing something like this — it’s like science fiction. But I knew the residents needed me. Besides, I can’t just sit at home. The residents and caregivers all wear masks and there are hand sanitizer stations throughout the facility. We take the residents’ temperatures on a daily basis and ask them if they’ve been having any symptoms. Every so often, one of the residents will say, “Now, remind me, why do we have to wear these masks?” I explain the situation to them and they get it. I think they feel safe and cared for.


I’ve seen in the news where other assisted living facilities have had big outbreaks of the virus. Thankfully, we haven’t had anyone test positive for coronavirus here. One of the toughest things is that we’ve had to restrict visitors, so none of the residents’ loved ones can visit. One of our residents, Mr. Richard, is on hospice care and really wants to go home. I was able to set him up on FaceTime to talk to his wife and children. His face just lit up.

On a personal level, I really miss my six grandkids. They range in age from six to 13 and two of them live nearby. I haven't seen any of them in person since February, but we do video calls. I made a decision early on that I wouldn’t see them until the threat of the coronavirus has passed. My granddaughter's birthday is coming up and I really want to see her, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that puts the residents, or my grandkids, at risk. It’s hard but I have a responsibility to try to keep everyone safe.

I try not to worry. I know I can’t change things. I pray all the time, but it's been a little more lately.

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