As a social service director at Ellsworth Health Services, a skilled nursing facility in Ellsworth, I have had the great honor of serving the seniors who have entrusted their care to us for many years.

As many know, across the country, long-term care providers such as us have taken unprecedented steps to protect our residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. We closed our doors to non-essential visitors and health care personnel, discontinued group activities and dining, and enforced social distancing. Along with federal, state and local health authorities, we believe these are the most effective ways to protect our residents from additional exposure to the virus.

We have experienced the hardship this pandemic has put on our residents and their family, friends, and loved ones. And since the onset, it has been our frontline caregivers who have created a strong community inside the walls of our centers.

They bravely show up every day, despite the enormous challenges they face, and have been innovative in keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected, striving to ensure that both their physical and mental health needs are met. We continue with daily activities of one-one visits, hallway bingos, walks outside, manicures, dice games, Skyping and Facetime with families, webcast church services, Bible study calls, exercise. traveling soda fountain and popcorn cart visits.

These long-term care heroes and those they care for -- those who are the most vulnerable to this virus -- need the attention and the support of our communities, our legislators and our decision-makers. The increased cost of securing adequate personal protective equipment and the growing staffing shortage crisis is unsustainable for many long-term care providers. We need funding to ensure that our doors can stay open and that our dedicated staff can continue the work they do every day.

It is time for federal, state and local health officials to put long-term care providers and their residents first. Only by making the most vulnerable in our society a priority will we give them the support they have earned and deserve.

Those who serve and those we serve appreciate the community's attention to this critically important matter.

Vanessa Nelson