Long-term wisdom

Long-term care providers in Texas have one of the highest turnover rates in the nation. The annual turnover rate for registered nurses in Texas nursing homes was 94 percent in 2015.

But in one San Antonio nursing home, two nurse aides have bucked that trend, dedicating their lifetimes to caregiving at the same facility for a combined 92 years. What they have learned can teach us all about the long-term care industry, family and life.

A lot has changed since Mae Ware clocked in for her first shift back in 1967. Aretha Franklin had just recorded what would soon be her chart-topping R&B single “Respect.” LBJ was president. And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just begun to open up our nation’s full potential for young African-American women like herself and Sharon Wright, who started six years later, joining Ware. Since then, they have known every joy and every sorrow that comes from a lifetime spent as a caregiver, witnessing residents rehabilitate and go home and comforting those in their final moments.

But while everything else was changing, the core values that served Ware and Wright and anyone whose lives were touched by them haven’t swayed a bit. Patience, they agree, is the key. Patience with residents, co-workers and family.

“This work is like being in a marriage and managing a household,” Wright said. “In a marriage you have to be patient, kind and respectful, and there are many jobs that you may not want to do around the house, but you do it for your family. Working in the nursing home is the same. We all have our jobs to do.”

For frontline care staff like Wright and Ware, the work is a calling. The rewards they have found by devoting their lives to caring for others are simple, but profound. Each day, caregivers like Ware and Wright (about 85 percent of the frontline staff in nursing homes are female) working in Texas nursing homes carry out the state’s duty of looking after the most vulnerable.

Most Texans — more than 80 percent — in nursing homes depend on Medicaid and Medicare. But by the state’s own estimates, the costs of taking care of these residents are more than the state reimburses the homes.

The result is low pay for the nurses and nursing assistants who are the very heart of long-term care. And top-notch nurses are leaving the industry in record numbers for higher-paying jobs with less stress every day.

Caring for the most vulnerable among us is a tough job, and Texas isn’t making it any easier. But thanks to the patience, teamwork and communication of more than 62,000 nurses, nurse aides and other direct care staff, it’s a job that gets done every day in nursing homes across the state