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Frontline workers double as nurses and family to comfort dying COVID-19 patients

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ONALASKA, Wis. (WXOW) - In addition to their regular jobs, frontline workers at the Onalaska Care Center try to substitute for family when dying COVID-19 patients need comfort.

Nurse manager Kia Vang has worked at the long term care facility since 2005, but never imagined she'd have to comfort residents who are not allowed to see their families.

"Knowing that they couldn't have one of their family members next to them…. it's devastating and it's heartbreaking," Vang said. "We try to be their family but it's not the same."

As COVID-19 positive cases increase no visitors are allowed inside.

"It's a very tough battle I have to say," Vang said. "You know we're still fighting it daily. Not just here whenever we walk through the doors but also at home in the community."

Gundersen Health System internal medicine and geriatrics physician Dr. Elizabeth Cogbil said frontline workers are struggling to help the overall community understand that community spread causes the highest risk to long term care facilities.

"We know that community spread is dependent on people making personal choices in order to protect the people around them," Dr. Cogbill said. "So unfortunately what we're seeing now in La Crosse is that people are choosing not to do those things and the impact is far reaching and it's devastating in these facilities because people are getting it and they are dying. It's devastating to the staff who are taking care of them and who are exhausted at this point."

Social worker Brad Godwin works extra ours to schedule virtual and window visits--though he said all people want to do is hug their loved ones.

"It's very difficult for the families not being able to be with their loved one during their final moments," Godwin said. "It's difficult for everyone. It's not normal and we're certainly waiting for the times to get back to some sort of normalcy here."

Goodwin and Vang maintain that frontline health care workers will continue fighting the uphill battle to keep their residents healthy and safe.

"We as healthcare workers we will continue to be your residents family members," Vang said. "We will continue to care for them love them as if they are our own. And of course it's not the same when it's not your family members holding your hand or hugging you but we're going to do that for our residents here."

The Onalaska Care Center urges that the community comply because their residents' lives depend on people following mask and distance guidelines.

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Marcus Aarsvold

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