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National award spotlights overlooked, yet critical, caregivers

When COVID testing was scarce early on in the pandemic, Margo Buda set up a coronavirus testing lab at Knollwood Life Plan Community in Washington, D.C. She and her staff became certified with the Department of Health, and began testing residents and employees of the facility, It's a move that potentially saved lives and earned Margo a national award for her efforts from the Ceca Foundation.
During the early days of the pandemic, to protect residents and staff, Margo Buda – a nurse clinic manager – took it upon herself to set up a COVID testing lab right inside the senior living community where she works.
Because of her COVID testing efforts at Knollwood Life Plan Community, where she works, Margo Buda (center) received a national award for her efforts from the Ceca Foundation. The nonprofit honors caregivers in some of America’s 15,000 nursing homes.
While the work of frontline health care workers – like doctors, nurses and paramedics – gained a lot of attention during the pandemic, the work of care givers at nursing home facilities is sometimes overlooked.
Posted at 1:21 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 13:21:42-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For Margo Buda, suiting up for work during the past year involved far more than it ever did before.

“It seems like a big blur to me,” she said. “There was concern that there was not going to be enough PPE.”

Personal protective equipment, referred to as PPE, became a major part of Buda’s work life, not at a hospital or a research lab, but at Knollwood Life Plan Community.

“If you’re over the age of 75, the last year and a half have been a little scary,” said resident Priscilla Cunningham.

It’s a senior living facility whose residents include military veterans and their spouses, all of whom were potentially vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We knew right away that testing was going to be a good way of finding out who's infected,” Buda said.

Yet, that was nearly an impossible task in the early days of the pandemic. So, to protect residents and staff, Buda, who is a nurse clinic manager, took it upon herself to set up a COVID-19 testing lab right inside the senior community.

“This is our instrument that we got,” she said, pointing to a machine inside the lab. “We became certified with the Department of Health, the forensic science division, and we just started testing anybody.”

It’s a move that potentially saved lives and has now led Buda to a national award for her efforts from the Ceca Foundation. The nonprofit honors caregivers in some of America’s 15,000 nursing homes.

“Our job basically is to recognize these caregivers for outstanding acts of care and many of them are under-recognized,” said Ceca Foundation co-founder Matt Lawlor.

Lawlor, along with his wife, Rosemary, started the foundation after his mother was in a care facility. There, they witnessed the hard work of those who were caring for her.

“It doesn't have to be a frontline worker. The caregiver can be the person in the kitchen where the person mopping the floors,” Rosemary Lawlor said. “You'd be amazed at the relationships that some of them have developed with people, and we never even think of them.”

However, the pandemic may have begun to change that.

“It raised the appreciation people have for health care givers,” Matt Lawlor said.

Those health care givers include people like Margo Buda.

“Margo's an unsung hero,” said Col. Brickerboss, Buda's boss and chief operating officer for Knollwood. “She's not going to brag about herself. She's very much like soldiers that I served with in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Much like a soldier, Buda would put on her uniform and head out.

“She would suit up in PPE and go out and test 80, 90-year-old residents,” Col. Bricker said. “And you could see the fear in their eyes. But when Margo shows up, it almost builds confidence in them.”

With nearly everyone there now vaccinated, the constant testing will likely start winding down. For Buda, the vaccinations bring some relief.

“The pressure is a little bit off,” she said, “and people have more of a sense of normalcy.”

It’s a normalcy that comes thanks to the work of so many during the past year, including caregivers on the front lines.

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