The pandemic really hit home when the organizations I work with put a call out for help on the front lines. This ask made me stop and reflect on life and what it means to serve the community.
I had a frank conversation with my wife and while she was scared, she was supportive of the important work that needs to be done.
While working at an assessment centre, I took care of a gentleman for whom the recommendation was to self isolate. He said, “well, I’m homeless, and I live in a shelter so I can’t really self isolate. So what I’ll sleep on the street so my friends will stay safe and healthy.” That conversation highlighted the societal inequities that are worsening, and disparity gaps that are widening during this pandemic. The poor are becoming poorer, the homeless are becoming more vulnerable, the incarcerated are getting sicker. As a society, COVID amplifies our need to pause for reflection and action around these critical issues.
There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of incredible work during this time that aren’t getting the exposure and the credit that they really deserve: essential workers, care aides, people who are working at our grocery stores and gas stations that are keeping our society together. It makes me wonder why it takes a pandemic for us to understand that these workers are worth so much.
Isn’t it ironic that so many of the people keeping this world going are those who so many believe don’t deserve more than $15 an hour?
As someone who provides health care to those experiencing homelessness, I think about shelter staff and outreach workers who are out there on the frontlines doing this work who have inadequate access to PPE. While modest, I’ve also been pleased with initiatives to protect and support people experiencing homelessness. In many cases, these people have been placed in sheltered accommodations. One has to wonder: when this pandemic is over, why shouldn’t they keep their housing? We can’t go back to homelessness and allow these morally distressing issues to go back to the way they were.
At the outset, it was a transition for me to go from being a palliative care doctor to someone working and doing assessments in the community and on the streets. But why not?
Isn’t that what this is all about? Serving the community at their greatest time of need?
That is what being a health worker is all about, and it’s what we all signed up for.