While most high school students had their lives come to a screeching halt when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the state and nation, one San Antonio senior was able to take the skills she learned during her time in the classroom to care for homebound seniors in need of assistance.

Hannah Pearson was just 24 hours shy of completing her training to become an emergency medical technician when coronavirus prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to shut down schools statewide, preventing her from completing the program. 

Pearson, an 18-year old senior at William J. Brennan High School in Northside ISD and aspiring emergency room physician, was devastated. She had planned to use her EMT training to work over the summer to earn money before heading to Texas Tech University, where she planned to major in biology. 

“When COVID-19 hit it’s like everyone’s life got put on pause and I was afraid of what it would do to my future,” Pearson said. “I was very excited to be getting my EMT license because I knew the experience would help me in my career and give me a good job to work through college.”

While COVID-19 interrupted Pearson’s plans to become a certified EMT by the end of her senior year, it also opened a door for her to become an in-home caregiver with Right at Home, a health care agency focused on caregiving for seniors, including assisting with basic needs and a care plan focused on safety and improving overall health. 

Concerns about COVID-19 had caused some caregiving employees at Right at Home to “get a little scared,” so there were openings available for in-home caregivers with the agency, said Owner Sloane Wendell. “Hannah had some pretty advanced medical training despite not being a certified EMT, so I invited her to come in for an interview.”

Wendell said that while Right at Home might hire younger caregivers if they were passionate and willing to go through necessary training or were certified nursing assistants, they likely would not be put on complicated cases or work with people with medical issues. But Pearson’s experience in the EMT training program and the fact that “at her core, she is a nurturing person,” allowed her to work with the agency’s more fragile patients, Wendell said.

Pearson was hired on the spot in mid-March as a caregiver for seniors in quarantine, and for the following two-and-a-half months, she worked every single day, traveling to patient homes to ensure they took their medications, were fed and stocked with grocery store necessities, and to keep an eye out for symptoms of COVID-19.  

The majority of patients with Right at Home have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or are at risk for falling, Wendell said, and need daily check-ins and assistance.

“It was rough, but it was a good experience because it helped me stay on track for a career in the health field, and I felt like I was getting more experience than I believe even my college classmates would have,” Pearson said. In one instance, “I rode with a person who had COVID-19 in an ambulance to the hospital because his symptoms weren’t good.”

Pearson said that knowing many of the seniors were home alone and were unable to have friends and family visit due to concerns over spreading coronavirus, she went out of her way to check in on as many as she could, even if she wasn’t assigned to work with them on a regular basis.

“I started baking a lot because I had more free time, and I took those cookies out to some of the patients who I thought could use a visit or a pick-me-up because I didn’t want them to just be home feeling sad or lonely,” Pearson said. “It is a hard time for everyone because of COVID-19, and I just wanted to help them feel better.”

Wendell said the caregiving position was “perfect for [Pearson] because of her caring, loving, nature,” which was necessary during a time when the agency was worried about depression in clients who were receiving less frequent visits from friends and family members due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Pearson said that she felt like it was her responsibility to check in and work with patients despite a COVID-19 diagnosis or any concerns over interacting with the virus because she’s young, and “more likely to survive [contracting the virus] than they would be, and they still need help.”

When visiting patients, Pearson wore a face mask and gloves, and took extra precaution by cleaning the home in areas where she interacted with the patient in case any outside germs were brought in.

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The draw toward a career in health care and helping people in need is something Pearson says was inspired by her mother, who was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, and was bedridden for several years when Pearson was younger. 

“At first, I wanted to do neurology and find a cure for my mom, but when I did my rotation at [Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital], I felt like there was a shock that went through me,” Pearson said. “I knew that it was where I wanted to be, in the action and taking care of people who really need it the most in some ways.”

For now, Pearson is content to continue her caregiving work at Right at Home, because it is helping her gain skills in communicating with people about their diagnoses or health concerns, and giving her insight into the structure of the health care system for people with various levels of need.

“I know that the work I am doing is important to people, which is why I wanted to go into the medical field in the first place,” Pearson said. “I want to help people, and I am learning how just being there with a patient and listening to them can improve their health. It’s a skill I will use forever.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.