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The Conundrum Of Masks Continues

, , , , , | Working | January 15, 2021

I work in a retirement living facility; it’s not exactly a nursing home, as it also has independent living options for older folks. It’s a fairly hoity-toity place and pretty expensive to live in.

I do part-time reception while the current health crisis is happening and I’ve only been there for about three months. Our policies are changing almost daily, since we have healthcare, as well. My shifts are all over the place and both staff and residents are having a hard time keeping up with all the new procedures.

One of these recent changes is that we cannot provide residents with masks, as we are all going through boxes like crazy; staff are excluded in this rule if they need a fresh one. We all have to wear surgical masks, not cloth ones. Their families are supposed to provide them with their own masks going forward. This seems a bit silly, as everyone in the building is required to wear one at all times; however, this is a set-in-stone rule that cannot be pardoned, as I’ve been told.

The residents are used to asking us for masks all the time, so naturally, they’re a bit confused and often upset that we no longer pass them out. The following two incidents happen within a day of each other on the weekend.

Incident #1:

A resident approaches the front desk.

Resident #1: “I need a mask, please.”

Me: “I’m very sorry, but we are not giving out masks at this time.”

Resident #1: “What do you mean? I don’t have one and I need one. You can’t give one to me?”

Me: “Unfortunately, it’s not my decision. We were told by [Boss’s Boss] directly that we cannot give out masks anymore. I know it’s a pain, but it’s out of my hands. She also told us that you can speak with her about it, if you want to.”

Resident #1: “Well, how am I supposed to get one, then?!”

I try to explain the policy further, and then a staff member from the dining room comes over, evidently hearing the argument.

Dining Staff: “You can give her a mask; it’s okay.”

Me: “I’m afraid it’s not. We’ve been instructed by [Boss’s Boss] not to give them out to anyone but staff, and even then, we have to use discretion. I can’t give her one.”

Dining Staff: “Yes. You can. Give her one.”

It’s clear she won’t leave me alone until I do it. I don’t trust myself to turn my back in case she tries to steal one, so I give the resident a mask and stress that I will not do it again. They both leave me alone, finally.

But the dining staff member comes back after a few minutes and tells me, “I need a mask”. She reaches over the desk and takes one, and then leaves quickly before I can say something.

I send off an email to my manager about the situation and do not get a reply.

Incident #2:

Resident #2: “Can you give me a mask?”

I explain the policy again. The resident sees my box of masks.

Resident #2: “You have a full box and you can’t give me one? That’s ridiculous!”

She goes off a few feet away and starts complaining to a few people about me. This time, one of the nursing staff is around and hears the arguing, so she comes to see what is happening.

Nurse: “Why can’t you give her one?”

I attempt to explain once again, but she keeps cutting me off and asking, “But why?” again and again. I really can’t get more than a few words out before she interrupts me. Then, in mid-conversation, she actually TAKES ME BY THE ARM AND SPINS ME AROUND so I face the opposite wall.

Nurse: “Look over there!”

Instead, I turn back around to see her quickly take a mask from the box, walk back to [Resident #2], and give it to her.

Nurse: “She didn’t see anything!”

I’m stunned, to put it mildly, but I march over to her; I don’t care if I’m being a hard-a** at this point, but I am NOT going to get in trouble over something like this!

Me: “I’m sorry but you can’t do that! They’ll think they can bully me into giving out masks now!”

Nurse: “She needed one, so why didn’t you give her one?”

We go back and forth some more, again getting nowhere with her interrupting me. Eventually, she just ends the conversation with:

Nurse: “I’ll give you more masks so you can hand them out.”

And she leaves.

Fuming, I fire off another email, while keeping it discreet, to my manager, and I also tell the other receptionists what happened in case something like this happens again. I tell my manager to contact me if she wants more details. My manager reads my emails and just reiterates the policy to me, which doesn’t really help. I’m off for a few days after this, and I receive a phone call one evening.

Manager: “Hi, so… I heard from one of the receptionists that something happened on your shift? Can you tell me more about it?”

I then re-tell both of the incidents, with names included. I also mention that the staff may think they can get me to bend the rule because I am still considered “new.”

Manager: *Angrily* “That is totally unacceptable. They cannot undermine you for a rule that was set by [Boss’s Boss], no matter if you have been here three months or three years. And no one has the right to touch you like that, even if she was doing it in a joking manner. Can I ask you to send me an email that includes the entire incident? I want to have the details in writing.”

I agreed and sent off a long email, which she confirmed that she got. I haven’t heard anything since, and things seem to be settling down, so hopefully, it won’t happen again.

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