Editor’s note: The video originally included in this article showed scenes from a facility that is not connected with this story. Those scenes have been removed.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Smiling, always smiling.”
That’s how Dina Mata will remember her friend and former co-worker Maurice Dotson.
Mata sat at the front desk of the nursing home where Dotson worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant. She said he brought joy and light every day when he walked through the doors.
“Everybody felt that,” she said. “I don’t think there was a day that Maurice worked where he wasn’t laughing.”
Mata described the tough job of a CNA, patiently helping elderly residents with daily tasks.
“He never complained,” Mata said. “Maurice was just that kind of man. He thought beyond himself.”
Mata said during her time at the front desk, she heard countless residents and family members express their love of Dotson. She saw CNAs come and go, but Dotson’s 25-year career speaks for itself.
She described him as “steadfast,” even as headlines about COVID-19 began to surface.
“Yes, it was a risk, and I’m sure he was scared, at times. But it was never going to stop him from doing his job,” Mata said.
That risk ultimately claimed Dotson’s life.
In Austin, there have been at least 16 deaths related COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities – 15 residents of those were residents.
On Monday, West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our team member and send our thoughts and prayers to friends and family. Our dedicated staff put our patients first before themselves everyday.”
Mata said that describes Dotson perfectly.
“He loved them with everything that he had,” she said. “He could have chosen to call in sick or do what everybody else might be doing. But no, he didn’t. He had a job to do.”
Staffing shortages have long been a problem in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, long before the threat of the coronavirus.
Lori Porter, co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, said the nursing home staffing crisis has been “brewing for years.”
“Why would they do it for $13 dollars an hour? In some states it’s still not even at $10 an hour for a starting wage,” Porter said. “None of us are here for the money.”
Now, with the risks greater than ever, Porter said she’s concerned nursing aides lack the resources they need to protect themselves.
“On behalf of more than a million CNAs nationwide, we thank Maurice and his family for his sacrifice,” she said. “We know there will be more.”
Porter fought back tears as she pleaded for more personal protective equipment for CNAs and other nursing home staff.
She says her hope is that America knows who the CNAs on the frontlines are and how valuable they are to our nation’s elders.
Austin Public Health has requested four strike teams from the state, to help assist in the hardest hit homes.
“Not only are patients or residents getting sick, but also staff are getting sick and that means staffing shortages are mixed with increasing populations in these facilities of patients that have more needs,” Austin Public Health Interim Authority Dr. Mark Escott said in a press conference on Wednesday.
He said they hope the teams will be able to “fill in the gaps,” as they work to stop the spread of the virus.
So far, APH has reported 96 residents and 67 staff diagnosed with the coronavirus in area long-term care facilities.
Mata said she wants to make sure Dotson’s legacy is more than just a number. She made a memorial for him that she hopes West Oaks will hang inside the facility.
“He didn’t run away. He stayed. He gave his all, all to where he gave his life. I just don’t want us to forget about Maurice.”