Prior to COVID-19, nursing homes were almost exclusively seen by the public as grim places to be avoided. People didn’t want to “end up” there, family members usually exhausted all possible avenues of care prior to admission, and sometimes relatives didn’t visit because they found it “too depressing.”
Yet we in the field know the reality that, despite the challenges of the work, dedicated caregivers bring joy and comfort to residents on a daily basis.
The pandemic has increased public awareness of the long-term care industry and, along with the usual negative stories, there’s an increasing view that residents and staff were failed during COVID-19 by forces larger than any single nursing home.
The situation has opened a rare window of receptivity in society to recognize the needs of elders and their caregivers. There’s an opportunity right now to make use of this sentiment to engage the public in the mission of long-term care.
This is a good time to emphasize that each nursing home is an essential resource for its community. When families need rehab or skilled nursing care for their loved ones, they look for reliable facilities close to home. We can make use of this moment to strengthen community connections and heighten the recognition of the importance and value of nursing homes.
One way to do that is to join the growing movement to reach out to seniors to reduce isolation. Letters Against Isolation, for instance, is a program started by two young women who began by calling their self-isolating grandparents daily, moved on to sending handwritten letters to seniors in assisted living and care homes, and then created an organization to offer the service to others when demand outpaced their individual efforts. Facilities can sign up for the program here.
Similarly, some LTC communities have started a local pen pal program to connect residents and young students in the area, as described in this Better Homes and Gardens article and in this piece in the Washington Post.
Other ways to increase positive visibility in the neighborhood include contacting local media outlets that might be interested in showcasing the efforts of staff members. For example, Sunday Seniors: Nursing homes get creative to keep residents connected to family and friends describes how an activity department offers socially distanced bingo and provides video calls for residents and families. Articles such as this show the facility in a positive light and also can be morale boosters for workers who receive recognition for their efforts. Imagine the positive press for a nursing home that, inspired by this determined entertainer, hires a cherry picker to allow pandemic-restricted family members to visit the third-floor windows of loved ones.
In another program, described as “Tik Tok for volunteering,” high school students created one- to three-minute videos about a hobby, story or talent to share with residents with dementia, as detailed here. In locations with dwindling PPE supplies, engaging locals in sewing and donating facemasks could be another way to strengthen community ties.
COVID-19 has been devastating in many ways, but a small silver lining is the recognition of the importance of long-term care to those outside of the industry. This is our moment to showcase the good we do every day.
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.