Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

The Northeast just experienced an earthquake and a hurricane all in one week. The storm may have subsided, but it’s likely residents and staff will still be facing a whirlwind of emotions. And it’s likely that, sooner or later, you will have to deal with a natural disaster or other calamity.

Here are some tips on how to handle such situations:

* Check in with staff to see who among the residents and coworkers are expressing feelings of fear, loss of control, or trauma following the events.

•  Refer distressed residents to the social worker and/or for psychological evaluation.

•  Acknowledge the feelings and experiences of distressed workers, and encourage them to seek emotional support if necessary. The loss of control during natural disasters can be a reminder of past traumatic events, thus triggering a stronger reaction among some people.

•  Debrief staff members on how the situation was handled, allowing the opportunity for feedback from line staff about what worked and what could be managed better next time. Getting information from the administration increases staff confidence in their leaders. Providing feedback to management, especially when it’s acted upon, improves staff morale and sense of control.  Feedback from staff members furnishes essential information to improve facility response in future disasters.

•  Allow the same opportunity for residents and families.

•  Supply a forum to acknowledge workers who offered assistance above and beyond their job descriptions, such as holding a thank you luncheon or making a public acknowledgement of staff efforts. Those who stayed or returned to work will appreciate having their actions recognized.

Crises such as natural disasters can offer the opportunity for the nursing home to come together as a community to prepare for and recover from the crisis, and to use what’s learned from the experience to improve disaster management plans.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., is an author, speaker and consultant sharing psychological insights to create long-term care where EVERYBODY thrives. Visit Dr. El at mybetternursinghome.com to receive your free ebook, Stop Agitating the Residents! 17 Secrets From Psych That Will Transform Care on Every Shift.