UConn student gives back during COVID-19 crisis

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Fourth-semester allied health major Elise Wardell had been working at The Hearth, an assisted living facility in Southbury, Conn.  Photo courtesy of Elise Wardell

Fourth-semester allied health major Elise Wardell had been working at The Hearth, an assisted living facility in Southbury, Conn. Photo courtesy of Elise Wardell

Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, University of Connecticut students have become “local heroes” and are giving back to their communities through service. 

Fourth semester allied health major Elise Wardell has been working at an assisted living facility during the COVID-19 crisis, providing aid to older Americans in her community. 

The facility is called The Hearth, and is located in Southbury, Connecticut. Wardell hails from Shelton, Connecticut.

“I recently got certified as a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant] back in February and I was originally just looking for a CNA job for this summer,” Wardell said. “When the semester got canceled, I reached out earlier to places in my community to see where I could help.” 

Wardell plans to attend physicians assistant school after graduation from UConn, in hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant. Currently, she works an average of three shifts a week, equivalent to 24 hours. 

“Part of the reason I started earlier [than I planned] was because [nursing homes] are desperately in need of CNA’s. A lot of them are unable to work due to testing positively for COVID,” Wardell said. 

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Patients [at The Hearth] can’t see their families, their outside friends. Often, we are their only source of entertainment, interaction or joy during the day. It feels really good to listen to them and to make them smile.
— Elise Wardell

According to Wardell, it is commonplace for CNA’s to work at multiple facilities. Due to cross contamination, work at multiple locations has become restricted, leading to a shortage in staff across the board, despite the effort of students to provide their services.

“In one of my allied health classes, we have a message board encouraging us to describe the service we have done during the crisis, whether it be EMT’s, Pharmacy Technicians or other CNA’s,” Wardell said. 

Healthcare service is taxing on the entire family, according to Wardell. Her mother disinfects her car, uniform and personal belongings before and after every shift. 

“When I leave work, I get sprayed down by a sanitizing solution in the facility,” Wardell said. “When I get home, everything I have gets washed immediately and I take a shower following every shift.” 

Wardell says her time spent at The Hearth does not feel like a sacrifice because she is entering the field that she has always wanted to work in. 

“Patients [at The Hearth] can’t see their families, their outside friends,” Wardell said. “Often, we are their only source of entertainment, interaction or joy during the day. It feels really good to listen to them and to make them smile.” 

Students with CNA or alternative certifications in healthcare should consider reaching out to facilities in their local communities, according to Wardell. 

“Another great way to help is to make masks,” Wardell said. “[My coworkers and I] have all been wearing the same N95 masks for the past couple of weeks.”

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Grace Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at grace.burns@uconn.edu.  

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