Most residents and workers are vaccinated and COVID-19 rates in nursing homes have plummeted, so everything should be great, right? According to a recent article in StatNews, not quite.
In “As the Covid-19 crisis ebbs in the U.S., experts brace for some to experience psychological fallout,” author Andrew Joseph reports that it’s only after an initial emergency ends that people –— finally out of crisis mode — have time to consider the emotional impact of their experiences. In addition, healthcare workers, “who have been stretched to the limit for months at a time and exposed to so much suffering, all while fearing for their own safety” may be more prone to “burnout, substance misuse and PTSD.”
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for lessening late-pandemic burnout in staff:
- Maintain mental health supports and programming: Organizations might have stepped up emotional support for workers during the height of the pandemic, but staff may need services just as much after the crisis abates. Rather than discontinuing assistance, reassess the needs of your team and adjust your offerings.
- Monitor overtime: With all the bad news about nursing homes, there’s probably not a line of new workers knocking at the door. Short-staffing can lead to great pressure on current employees to fill open shifts by working doubles or staying late. Be mindful that the kind of people drawn to work in nursing homes — compassionate caregivers — are also the kind of people who have difficulty saying “no.” They’ll take on shifts when they should be taking care of themselves. Keep track of overtime hours and emotional states and pull back rather than push for overtime from someone who’s overdoing it.
- Increase scheduling control: If the situation calls for extra hours, make it more manageable for workers by providing the option to schedule it in advance or to choose the shifts that work best for them. Offer flexibility in arrival or departure times to accommodate family needs. Allow an opportunity to select some days off — and avoid calling them in for work that day. Remember that these nice people dislike declining requests and will feel guilty when they do. Let their days off be off with no pressure.
- Set the tone: As a leader, your actions matter. Are you frazzled and on the verge of burnout yourself? Are you staying late, eating lunch at your desk and taking non-urgent calls on the weekends? Model good self-care for your team by taking vacation days, going for a short walk after lunch and leaving the facility at a reasonable hour. Encourage supervisors and teammates to do the same.
- Get creative: Hold walking meetings or have a team huddle outdoors. Give hard-working staff members gift certificates for self-care such as manicures or massages or for entry to a local botanical garden. Have a “healthy food” lunch contest to encourage good nutrition and, according to a relatively new field known as “nutritional psychiatry,” improve emotional functioning. Activities such as these can help foster a wellness culture in your organization.
Unlike those who spent the pandemic baking bread and reflecting on life, for long-term care workers it was a period of crisis and loss. The crisis may be over, but the depleted emotional reserves need to be replenished. Organizations that encourage this process will be more likely to retain their workers rather than burn them out.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition and a Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.