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ASHLAND Since the first confirmed coronavirus case in America on Jan. 20, 2020, more than 33 million cases have been confirmed here, which has led to 590,000-plus deaths so far. Researchers at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated recently that the death count is actually more than 900,000.  

In the last 16 months, life has changed drastically and perhaps nowhere more than at hospitals and nursing homes.

With rules put in place to keep patients and residents safe, family members were not able to visit relatives and friends until lately, which led to dedicated staff members of nursing homes and hospitals sort of becoming surrogate family members of the residents and patients they serve.  

“That was definitely the hardest part. A lot of them (residents) kind of took a turn just from being cooped up in here and not seeing family. A lot of them had routines where they would go down and play bingo, or go down and eat in the dining room, and they couldn't do that anymore,” said Woodland Oaks caregiver Morgan Arthur. “They had to stay 6 feet apart. Everybody had to stay in their rooms, and you could really see a change in all of them. So we kind of became like their family inside.”

Arthur is just one of numerous area nursing home employees who filled an important void for residents during the shutdown to visitors during the pandemic.   

But Arthur also began doing something else. She used to like serving volleyballs to her competitors while being a middle blocker for South Point High School's volleyball team. Now she is serving women at Woodland Oaks in Ashland by giving them fancy hairstyles, and a greater sense of dignity.   

“I grew up with four sisters,” Arthur said. “My mom went to beauty school right after she had me. So she French-braided my hair all the time and fixed my hair, and I've always had long hair. So my sisters, when my mom would work, we would fix each other’s hair after school.” Arthur said she French-braids her own hair. And there is a volleyball connection with that. “I played volleyball in high school and my hair made it an issue — it’s so long, so I would French braid it back out of my face.

“We have mostly women on the hall, and mostly women in the nursing home in general,” Arthur said. “A lot of them enjoy having their hair played with. They're used to having it done up and stuff. When they come in here they don't really get the luxury of having their hair done up.”  

And that is one of the things that COVID-19 has put a hold on. Because of pandemic regulations, the hair stylist who came to Woodland Oaks to do hair could no longer come.  

“We kind of became the hairdressers after that,” Arthur said. Because of pandemic regulations Arthur can no longer use a hair dryer while doing someone's hair.  “We used to have a hair dryer, and I used to take a brush and I would style their hair back. It's a lot easier to do that with the men.

“I thought about it, but to tell you the truth I absolutely love my job,” Arthur said. “I love my people. They all turn into like grandparents after a while, and I've been working here almost five years now.”

Added Arthur: “It’s a tiring job. Being a caregiver is rough, but it is the most rewarding job in the world. It's a good feeling going home at night and knowing that you're people are safe, and they feel good, and they trust you enough for you to come back the next day and take care of them.”  

To outsiders, it may seem as though the jobs these people have are a special calling they’ve received.  

“It's really hard to kind of stray away from this kind of work. It’s hard to picture myself doing anything else really,” Arthur said. “My favorite part would definitely feel like, the feeling of being needed. It makes you feel really good when you can make, you know, someone’s day just by, I mean something small, braiding hair, going to get an ice cream from the kitchen, anything like that that makes people smile makes you feel really good.”                                       

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