As health professionals across Alabama this week commemorate National Skilled Nursing Care Week, it is important that we don’t forget the women and men fighting on the front lines of Alabama nursing homes to protect the lives of vulnerable seniors. This special week, which was established in 1967 by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), was created to recognize the critical role skilled nursing care centers play in caring for America’s elderly and disabled. As we grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever to celebrate the skilled professionals dedicating their lives to caring for seniors.

There is no doubt that Alabama’s 231 nursing homes have faced unprecedented challenges in past weeks as they care for patients with special and complex needs, many of whom are at high risk for a virus such as COVID-19. We have seen numerous photos of continued lockdowns at nursing homes and the touching images of families separated from the nursing home residents they love. While technology and social media have eased this burden to some extent and many have used the Facebook and Twitter hashtags #NSNCW and #CareNotCOVID to send messages of support, the social distance separation still affects us all.

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Often overlooked are the 31,000 people who each day care for these residents, risking their own lives and working long hours for their second families at Alabama nursing homes. These skilled workers are heroes in their own right and deserve our applause. They also deserve all of the resources they need to wage their fight, especially as state lawmakers consider how to allocate emergency funds.

“Like other health care providers, nursing homes need a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE),” explains Alabama Nursing Home Association President & CEO Brandon Farmer. “Infection control measures will only be as effective as our ability to secure PPE.”

The reality is that our admiration and applause aren’t enough to make sure nursing home professionals meet the needs of vulnerable residents. The staff at these facilities need access to personal protection equipment (PPE) and adequate testing to make sure both the staff and residents stay safe. Shortages have threatened these resources as most shipments of PPE are being directed toward hospitals, where they are also, of course, sorely needed. Alabama nursing homes have coped well and have gone above and beyond to protect their workers, but elected officials must remain aware of the critical importance of equipping these front line heroes.

Help should soon be on the way as the Trump administration recently announced plans to ship protective gear directly to nursing homes in need. Alabama leaders, too, are in the process of deciding how to allocate emergency dollars to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, which could provide additional support.

“We are literally contracting to ship direct what amounts to PPE packages to all 15,000-plus nursing homes in the country. And it’s going to be a supply for a specific set of weeks,” said Vice President Mike Pence, according to ABC News.

Nursing home workers are on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving their families each day and putting themselves at risk to care for their residents when most of us are still sheltering in place and spending time with our loved ones. These essential workers need our support more than ever before, and we all can make a difference by raising our voices to advocate for them the way they’ve always advocated for our family members. We owe it to them to make sure they are fully protected.

Conwell Hooper is the Executive Director of American Senior Alliance