Richard White

As COVID-19 and its variants continue to be of concern among leadership at skilled nursing facilities throughout the country, virus protection for our residents and their families persists. Although strict safety policies have been successfully put in place in order to protect everyone living in these facilities, what treatments are there to address the pressures that have faced the therapists? 

For therapists working in healthcare, these stressors include longer working hours, finding weekend coverage, extra documentation and following additional personal protective equipment measures to avoid exposure. 

How do therapists manage this stress, help relieve burnout, and continue to sustain high morale? Most therapists would say that the reason they are in this profession is because of who they are, changing their focus away from themselves and toward their residents. Therapists are accustomed to a tireless pursuit to improve the lives of those they treat.  

However, altruism can become detrimental. Like the nurses and doctors on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not hard to imagine that eventually therapists will also become burned out. Burnout can come in many forms, and it’s important not only to recognize the signs of stress, but to address them. 

Directors of rehabilitation have a vital role in determining what can be done to help the dedicated therapists who are motivated to deliver quality care to the family members they serve. I am grateful to work with directors and therapists who are “hyper-focused” on reducing and preventing the risk of burnout. Here are just a few.

Leading by example, Jeff Grzybowski, director of rehabilitation at Boro Park Center, a 505-bed skilled nursing facility in Brooklyn, NY, took the initiative to distinguish four to five therapy staff employees during his weekly team meetings. Jeff used the designation “hero” when recognizing individuals for their outstanding work. 

As a result, several people on his team became motivated to “pay it forward” and made efforts to help those around them as well. This demonstration of gratitude and awareness of staff efforts was contagious. Immediately, staff were bringing in donuts, checking in with other therapists, reaching out to other department employees and their supervisors to ask, “How are you doing?” and offering words of encouragement. 

Jocelyn Nackley, the director of rehabilitation at Onondaga Center, an 80-bed skilled nursing facility in Syracuse, NY, also praises her staff members during her internal weekly team meetings and then publicly whenever she works alongside her team on the unit. Rehabilitation directors are treating too. Her team particularly enjoys it when Jocelyn brings in their favorite foods from various local lunch and coffee chains.  

Bringing in food for therapists and saying “thank you” is a start in the right direction, but it’s certainly not the entire answer. It shows that leadership is paying attention. It is a focus on ourselves so we can better treat the reason why we are all here, for the residents and their loved ones. 

As Jacqueline Turenne, rehabilitation director at Beth Abraham Center, a 448-bed skilled nursing facility in the Bronx, NY, says, “it’s trial and error, what works one day may not work another day.” 

Jaqueline adds her advice by saying, “be yourself, be transparent and keep an open-door policy. We lean on each other and if there are issues or concerns you cannot address, let me know about them and I will do my best to solve them.”

So, there are answers for rehabilitation therapists to minimize burnout, but they need to come from a positive departmental approach where therapists and other clinicians feel that their colleagues and supervisors have each other’s backs. 

Rehabilitation departments are doing their best to take excellent care of families’ loved ones, as well as finding a way and understanding how to best take care of themselves.  

Richard White PT, DPT, is the Corporate Rehabilitation Director of Education & Clinical Practice at Centers Health Care & Sigma Health Rehab in New York. 

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.