March 2020 was daunting for everyone, but especially for frontline healthcare providers: doctors, nurses, CNAs, social workers, paramedics, and chaplains. In addition to the daily stressors of ever-changing workplace policies, harrowing statistics, and not enough PPE (personal protective equipment), frontline workers in the Rocky Mountain and Southwest Regions have had to contend with the juxtaposition of their usual daily tasks and constant vigilance towards the ever-increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients in the hospitals and nursing homes where they work.
Healthcare workers on the front line of the pandemic are faced not only with the awareness that, in doing their jobs, they may become ill themselves, but also that they might inadvertently bring the virus home and infect their loved ones. In response to such unthinkable dilemmas, Mountain View Friends Meeting decided to join the Frontline Housing movement – to offer alternative housing to healthcare workers, helping to lessen their worries and providing some emotional support and sense of community to our guests.
We soon discovered that healthcare workers, when considering frontline housing, must also consider how to make such a move in a way that minimizes the time they spend away from their loved ones. Mountain View Friends received several halting inquiries during our first few weeks of offering frontline housing, but no takers. Meanwhile, the storm clouds of the virus were looming, hovering ever closer with each daily briefing from the Governor.
Then, on April 3, a nurse decided to take refuge in our meetinghouse, after the hospital where she works converted two of its floors into COVID units. While her husband and two small children waited outside, Friends provided our new guest with an orientation to our newly configured bedrooms, asked her to sign a Frontline Principles agreement, and handed her a set of keys. Although overwhelmed and understandably upset at having to make such a difficult choice, our guest repeatedly thanked Friends for giving her one less thing to worry about.
We also had an inquiry from a doctor who was seeking a place for quarantine when she returns from volunteering in New York City. After much discussion, we decided that this kind of arrangement would stray too far from the Frontline Principle of creating a supportive community. The doctor agreed to find alternative housing. We continue to attract attention from the community as word about our effort spreads. Given that nursing homes in the Greater Denver Metropolitan Area have borne the brunt of COVID-19 deaths, concerted outreach has been made to frontline workers in those environments.
Beyond Denver, Friends in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque have begun their own processes to open frontline housing in their communities. Unlike the corporations that are hurriedly offering reduced-cost or free housing for healthcare workers, Quakers are striving to balance our desire to be supportive with some very real anxieties. We find it worrying to surrender our much-loved worship space to circumstances without precedent and without a clear end date. In finding our way through these uncertainties, Mountain View Friends have produced a set of written materials, which we have shared with other Quaker meetings that are considering frontline house. Discussions are ongoing, and new alliances have been established.
As of this writing (4/26/2020), there are 12,968 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado and 672 deaths. Social distancing measures are expected to continue into 2021. This means that frontline healthcare workers will continue to put their lives at risk. The initial surge of community support may dwindle as getting through this crisis turns into a difficult slog of indeterminate length. For all these reasons, Frontline Housing continues to be a valuable endeavor.
If your meeting would like to consider becoming a Frontline Housing site, please contact me at 602-405-5134 or [email protected] ~~~
Diane D’Angelo is a hospice chaplain and mental health counselor. She attends Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver (IMYM) and is a regional member of the AFSC Corporation.