With Nursing Facility Closed To Visitors, This Daughter Got A Job In Laundry Room

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MJ Ryan and her mother, Theresa Ryan. (Courtesy)
MJ Ryan and her mother, Theresa Ryan. (Courtesy)

A Rhode Island woman found a unique solution to what's become a common crisis for family members of nursing care patients: the inability to visit their loved ones during the pandemic.

MJ Ryan, who works full time in the health care industry, says her 90-year-old mother Theresa Ryan, who suffered from dementia and heart disease, was deteriorating without visitors.

When she heard about a Florida woman who got a job working in her husband's care facility, MJ Ryan decided to do the same. She called the Friendly Home in Woonsocket asking if they had any job openings and was eventually hired to man the facility's laundry room.

After taking the part-time job, she was able to visit her mother during her 8-hour shifts. At first, Theresa was “a little bit removed,” she says, but began warming up to MJ Ryan over the course of the day. Her mom, who had tested positive for the coronavirus at one point, was having a hard time adjusting in general after being moved from her usual spot in the care center.

But by the end of MJ Ryan’s first shift, “we were talking and laughing and she was talking about getting back to the casino,” she says.

MJ Ryan was also able to ensure her mother was getting exactly what she needed, considering the care center’s staff was stretched thin because of COVID-19.

She was also able to transition her mother back to her old spot in the center where the folks knew her well. “That made the world of difference and that just made her quality of life for the last few months so much better,” she says.

MJ Ryan at the Friendly Home with her mom, Theresa Ryan. (Courtesy)
MJ Ryan at the Friendly Home with her mom, Theresa Ryan. (Courtesy)

Since the coronavirus caused strict visitation restrictions, lonely people in the care facility were greeted by MJ Ryan’s frequent check-ins and chitchats. Conversing with folks was a “gratifying piece” of being a laundress, she says. In addition to her mother, she was able to help others and pitch in when an extra hand was needed.

MJ Ryan’s top priority was to get in the care facility during the pandemic; she never wanted her mother to be alone. She suggests the path she took — getting a job within a facility — if you are unable to visit with a loved one. Plus, many nursing homes are short staffed and need the assistance, she says.

“I would suggest that strongly to anyone,” she says. “It's hard work, but it's a lot harder to be home away from someone you love and watch them decline.”

There are protocols to keep in mind: Caretakers need to be extremely careful going in and out of the facility, she says, and Friendly Home workers received weekly coronavirus testing. Personal protective equipment is required at all times, too, she notes.

Just last Sunday, MJ Ryan’s beloved mother died. Because of her laundry job, in her mother’s final days, MJ Ryan was able to be by her side at all hours of the day — holding her hand, rubbing her back and making sure she wasn’t suffering.

“There's nothing worse and nothing better than being there,” she says. “And if I ever had to lose my mother and not be with her, I don't think I could live with it.”

Although her mom has passed, she didn’t quite put in her notice at the Friendly Home. MJ Ryan let the team know that if there’s an occasional emergency, she’ll happily come and assist.

She became close with many friendly faces at the facility, after all, and knows she can be there for someone else’s mom.

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on November 5, 2020.


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