Dr. El

One of the best ways to make meaning from tragedy is to use the experience to help others. Below, staff members of New York City nursing homes hit early in the pandemic graciously offer their advice to teams across the country that might be anticipating or currently grappling with the pandemic.

Advance planning

  • Stay calm.
  • Anticipate everything. Be proactive. Order supplies early because once it hits, it’s too late. There’s nothing available, even down to alcohol pads.
  • Cohort residents with symptoms on the same floor.
  • Distribute PPE in a timely fashion to prevent transmission of infections.

Managing staff

  • Be a source of support and encouragement to staff.
  • Validate their experiences.
  • Order food for the team.
  • Encourage staff members to support each other.
  • Let workers know that they’re not failing when residents get sick despite all they’ve done to help them.
  • Provide support to each other, talk to staff, listen to staff, share your own feelings of grief, anxiety and panic because we all have so much in common.
  • Note the mood and behaviors of your own team. You’re all sharing this collective grief as your clients become ill or pass away, yet you are tasked with caregiving and supporting their families while grieving at the same time.
  • Encourage staff to seek professional help. Telehealth is now available with flexible hours to accommodate schedules.
  • Watch for distraction while on the job, like incomplete work, irritability with families or clients, tardiness or absences when these behaviors did not previously exist. Be understanding, show empathy when addressing these issues and encourage staff to seek help.

Infection control

  • Look at everyone like they have COVID-19.
  • Protect yourself. Wear N95 masks protected by a surgical mask, gloves and face shields or goggles.
  • Have hand sanitizer with you all the time.
  • Don’t run around with gloves thinking you’re protected. It’s too easy to touch your cell phone.
  • As a worker, you need to go into every situation expecting that you can get the virus and you can’t let down your guard.
  • Maintain presence of mind as much as possible so you can follow infection control procedures rather than let anxiety take over.
  • Follow all the precautions and don’t be afraid. 
  • Focus on your purpose of helping people and know that many of them will get better even though they have the virus.

Engaging with residents

  • Treat them as you would normally — we’re all in this together.
  • Do what you can to reassure the residents. You may be able to self-disclose a little bit. For instance, they haven’t seen their families but neither have we.
  • Introduce yourself each time you see a resident unless you’re sure they know who you are. The PPE makes everyone look alike.
  • Wear cheerful clothes. (I’ve taken to wearing distinctive hats to combat the PPE blues.)

Families of residents

  • With visitation suspended, family members who may have been anxious to begin with will be more anxious. Keep a list with the messages they leave and return calls promptly, even if you don’t have the information they requested. You can get that later. It’s the human contact that’s more important. Provide reassurance, stay calm in their anxiety, be soothing.
  • As much as possible, facilitate communication. 
  • Be transparent to alleviate their anxiety and establish trust.
  • Reach out to families you know are very involved even before they call you.
  • In chaos, it will help to be organized. Set small goals. Keep a notebook or a log of calls. It will make it easier to follow up on issues and concerns.

Home life

  • Stock up on supplies at home. Don’t go crazy, but once COVID-19 gets to a place, it can be hard to find things like antibacterial soap, sanitizing wipes, baby wipes, canned items and toilet paper.
  • Be careful with your family. Don’t walk around the house with your street shoes. Cover your hair at work and take off your clothes and shower right away when you get home.
  • Make sure you take care of yourself and get the support of your family and friends. 


  • Schedule in relaxing me-time, like movies, a glass of wine, favorite foods. It can be a stressful, worrisome time.
  • Part of self-care is reducing the news and social media overload, which can increase anxiety.
  • Get plenty of rest to boost your immune system.
  • Use meditation, calm breathing, exercise and prayer.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Take breaks like walks to clear your head.
  • Stay in the moment. Do your best not to project about what may be.
  • Find some positivity. Visit residents.
  • It can be hard to keep a sense of humor during a pandemic but allow yourself to have fun when you can. One staff member said, “I wish we were fighting aliens from another planet because at least we would know what we were shooting at!”
  • Take time for pleasurable activities, such as time with family, pets, reading and cooking. Check in with friends and neighbors.
  • Try to remain hopeful. This crisis will pass.

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.