A heart for in-home caregiving

Creswell resident Kim Cornelius continues to provide vital in-home care for older and disabled adults during the pandemic.MARTHA McREYNOLDS JR./photo

If she’s not quite on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s only one row back.

Despite the somewhat higher risk to herself, Kim Cornelius of Creswell continues to provide in-home care as more elderly and disabled people seek assistance to help stay out of group facilities.

According to AARP, thousands of older Americans rely on in-home caregivers to help them manage daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning; transportation for groceries, prescription pickup and medical appointments; and personal care such as bathing and dressing.

Particularly now, with people self-isolating, in-home caregivers provide compassionate human interaction for newly homebound clients and reassure family members that loved ones are safe and well at home.

Emotional well-being is the primary challenge these days.

“I’m finding older people are feeling more isolated without their families coming in, church, friends,” Cornelius said. One of her clients was “used to going various places before the Coronavirus, and not being able to go shopping now is discouraging for her,” she said. “But overall, I don’t feel she’s lonely – she’s constantly talking to her loved ones.”

A mentally disabled client, on the other hand, “doesn’t like to go out and actually enjoys being isolated from people,” Cornelius said. “But she does visit her parents on weekends, so I wear a mask all the time there, am constantly washing my hands, put a sheet over her chair and clean everything.”

Cornelius, 34, has been an in-home caregiver for six years and works for New Horizons In-Home Care in Eugene and private clients. While preventing illness transmission has always been important, COVID-19 has heightened concerns.

“Some clients did not want me to enter their home when this epidemic started – which I absolutely understand,” said Cornelius, who also declined assignments at assisted-living and long-term facilities before they closed to all non-essential visitors.

“I decided not to take on those extra assignments unless it was an emergency because I don’t want to expose other(s) by going in and out of different places,” she said.

Cornelius said she completed an online course covering best practices regarding the Coronavirus. 

When working, she wears a surgical mask; her mother-in-law in Arizona also made a cloth mask for her, “which was really sweet,” she said, adding that she sometimes wears the cloth mask (recommended by the CDC for the general public) over the surgical mask and sometimes wears it alone.

She also discovered – from a YouTube video sent to her by an aunt who is a retired RN – an ingenious way to add extra filtering to a surgical mask: “I bought a vacuum filter, cut a triangle out of it, cut a slit on the underside of the mask and slipped it in there,” she said.

When leaving work, she sprays her shoes with a solution of one ounce of bleach to a gallon of water, allowing them to dry 10 seconds before getting into her car.

Once home, she again wipes down her shoes before entering the house, then removes shoes and clothes, keeping them separate from other items, and showers.

She also uses a hand sanitizer made of 2.5 ounces 95% alcohol, 2.5 ounces water and about 10 drops each peppermint, cinnamon, tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils, storing it in a five-ounce dark glass bottle.

By taking these precautions at work and home, “I don’t believe I’m exposing my roommates to anything,” she said.

Ultimately, though, Cornelius accepts the risk of providing in-home caregiving because she said it’s often best for clients not needing emergency, intensive or comprehensive care, and their families. Even – perhaps especially – now.

“It’s been an interesting time,” Cornelius said. But whatever remains unknown in the wake of COVID-19, one thing hasn’t changed: “My priority is to keep clients safe – and myself.”



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