Why I quit: A former nursing home staffer now explores social work – Albany Times Union

In a multi-part series this week, we share locals’ personal stories on why they decided to leave their jobs during the pandemic, part of a national workforce shift being called the Great Resignation.

Aliza Benson had been working full-time for two years at a small company in the New York City borough of Queens that provided in-home physical and occupational therapy to senior citizens when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“When COVID happened, nobody wanted physical or occupational therapists coming into their houses anymore,” said Benson. “The therapists didn’t want to go to people’s houses and be potentially exposed.”

It was a necessary precaution. Around 50 people died at the nursing home where she worked within the first couple of months of the pandemic, said Benson. But it also impacted her livelihood.

“Because people weren’t taking [our] services, [my company] cut my hours to like nothing.”

Benson’s hours dropped from 40 hours a week to two-to-three-hour days a few times a week, during which she would be in the office to check the mail. Benson didn’t feel entirely safe working in a nursing home at the height of the pandemic either. For $16 an hour and no benefits, she said the job wasn’t worth it.

The upheaval spurred her to reevaluate her life choices and make drastic changes: she quit her job, moved to Beacon, divorced her husband, and became a full-time caretaker for her mother and her children after her father died — all while starting an online master’s degree in social work from SUNY Buffalo.

“I didn’t know when, or if, business was ever going to come back,” said Benson. “I didn’t know how long the pandemic was going to go on for, so I said might as well take advantage of the opportunity.”

Changing priorities in a pandemic

The pandemic has led so many people across the country to leave their existing jobs and pursue a different path that the trend has earned its own nickname: “The Great Resignation.” In November 2021, a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Low pay was one of the top reasons why three percent of workers voluntarily left their positions, and it was part of Benson’s reasoning, too.

The last straw for Benson was when her father died in May 2020 after an elective heart surgery was put on pause due to COVID, which Benson believes led to his death. She decided to leave her job and be with her mother in Beacon, where her parents had lived for a few years.

Moving to the Hudson Valley allowed Benson to trade a small New York City apartment for fresh air and a backyard, and care for her mother.

With time and space, Benson was able to consider more carefully what she wanted to do next for a career. Prior to her job at the nursing home, she was a stay-at-home mom, and before that she was a teacher for six years.

“Now that I’m a single parent, the line of work I’m going in should provide a more secure job for me hopefully,” said Benson, who had been thinking about, and applied to, a social work program. “I can get benefits and better pay to help support my kids.” She has a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old. 

Benson is aiming to finish her degree by next year.

“Even though the pandemic has been horrible and crazy and anxiety producing, it’s also been a positive and an opportunity for me to take the time to get this master’s in social work,” she said “I’m even able to do my placement on the computer. When I’m done in a year, maybe they’ll be hiring more social workers.”