Dr. El
Dr. El

When I speak to long-term care groups, whether to those in leadership positions or to direct care staff, it’s clear that virtually all the audience members have been drawn to the industry because of their love of elders.

The travails of the past year and a half, however, have likely depleted the energy and enthusiasm of workers at every level. 

COVID-19, the sudden loss of too many residents both beloved and new, the heartache of visitor restrictions, the excessive focus on profit, vaccine hesitancy and vaccine mandates, staff shortages, budgetary woes – there are many reasons why those of us with a passion for long-term care might be feeling particularly strained right now, perhaps even wondering if it’s possible to continue in the field.

Below are some ideas on how to stay the course when the present is extremely challenging, and the future is far from certain.

  1. Focus on the residents: No matter what role one has in a senior care organization, our ultimate purpose is to help seniors. When all else seems to be going haywire, paying attention to the positive impact we’re having on individual residents can be gratifying and act as a compass during a stormy time in the industry. This is our true north. 
  1. Focus on your team: Maintaining a business of providing competent care is a team effort. If a focus on residents isn’t doing it for you, a shift towards supporting, encouraging and growing teams and teammates might offer enough perspective to make the job rewarding again. Complimenting a coworker on a situation well handled, initiating an employee support program, inviting a colleague to lunch – these are all ways in which to invest in the workforce, gain strength and redefine one’s purpose.
  1. Set boundaries: The fast track to resentment and burnout is to put in extra hours attempting to prop up a broken system. Attempt is the operative word because no one of us can make things right. Sometimes the best thing we can do to keep going is to limit our time at work, take our lunch breaks, leave at the end of the day, and let the chips fall where they may. 
  1. Focus on outside interests: Those who are burned out on giving of themselves in their profession might look elsewhere for emotional sustenance, letting the job be just a job for a while and not a calling. Rebalancing by investing in pleasurable outside pursuits – exercise, music, family, an old hobby or a novel recipe – can often lead to a second wind at work.
  1. Take on a different role: Perhaps invigoration can come from within the field, in the form of a new position that adds to current skills and experience. Whether the job is in the same organization or requires a leap to another one, such a change can be energizing and offer a fresh outlook on the industry. 
  1. Focus on the potential for positive changes: Despite the grim headlines, there are bright spots of hope – state-sponsored staffing initiatives, stabilizing occupancy rates, national legislative efforts to address staffing troubles – suggesting that the LTC ship will eventually right itself and that it’s worth waiting it out.
  1. Become part of the solution: For some, rejuvenation might come in the form of assisting these efforts at positive change. Whether it’s donating time or money, joining an organization striving for a better vision for aging services, or encouraging colleagues who are doing so, participation can renew a sense of hope and purpose.
  1. Find another career that inspires passion: Some readers, however, may have reached the breaking point with long-term care and will need to go their own way to find job fulfillment. As the elders I’ve counseled over the years would no doubt advise, life is too short to remain in an unhappy work situation when it’s possible to make a change. 
  1. Scale back: Others will find that a move to consulting or part-time employment offers the opportunity to stay connected to the field while exploring other possibilities. This option allows for continued contributions to long-term care without depending on it for one’s entire professional identity and livelihood.

Whatever way we handle these unsettling times, one thing will remain constant: those we serve will continue to need the kind of people who’d read through a column like this – thoughtful, compassionate folks like you.

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 andGold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.

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.