Tamar Abell

Dear Seema Verma,

Let me start out by saying, we, in the long-term care community, understand what a difficult job you have been tasked with. This unprecedented event has devastated our elderly, specifically those in long-term care communities. I have been in long -term care for 30 years as a speech pathologist, administrator, owner and currently as a consultant. The long-term care community has sometimes had an adversarial relationship with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, but today, we actually have a lot in common; we are both in a battle for survival.

 We are both … acting as “consultants.” I am directing my staff from the comfort of my living room in sweatpants. You are directing your staff from the comfort of an office, perhaps in real work clothes. Staff is struggling immensely on the front lines with lack of supplies and direction while we are dispensing advice and calling the shots from the comfort of quarantine.

We are both … struggling with the media and how we are perceived by the public. Both of us are portrayed as the” bad guys.”  The public wants the government to do more and the nursing homes to do better.  The result is a government response with an iron fist- targeted surveys during critical times for the nursing home.

We are both … dealing with exhausted and overwhelmed staff.  Lack of staff has always been an issue for both of us, but now it has become crippling.  My staff are dwindling by the day and the ones who remain, fear for their life every time they walk into the facility to care for their residents.

Director Verma, now is the time to step it up and work as a team. Here are some ideas:

  • Surveyors and surveys:  As of March 23, 2020, surveys have been halted due to this pandemic.  The only surveys being done currently are related to infection control and COVID-19. Director Verma, why not have your staff of surveyors, a great majority of them nurses, join in the fight? We are desperate for nurses to help pass meds, assess residents and lend a hand.  Why not have your environmental specialists help us with creating optimal isolation wings? How about your dietitians help us source desperately needed disposable products? Instead of issuing surveys, prevent us from needing them.
  • Media: My staff is petrified. It’s enough that they risk their lives to take care of our elders but then add the worry about “infection control surveys” and the many Immediate Jeopardy citations that have been issued and the negative media that goes with it. They are working seven days a week, giving of themselves, but are portrayed as the “negligent caregivers.”  Try social distancing an 87-year-old dementia resident who has been locked in a room for days?  Or the resident who is lonely for her family and goes to visit her neighbor? How about the staff that can’t get alcohol gel because its backordered across the country?  An important concept you learn as a parent or a manger is “catch them doing something right, not wrong.” We need to stand at the podium and call our long-term care employee’s heroes — the forgotten and unsung heroes. Talk about the love they are providing, the songs they are singing and the prayers they are reciting at a deathbed when no one else can be present. Our joint goal is to help the elders, not punish the caregivers.
  • Call for volunteers:  Now is the time for the American people to shine. We are a country built on tradition passed on from our forefathers.  Director Verma, why not urge the country to lend a hand to their local nursing homes?  Communities can “adopt a home;” create an activity schedule via zoom where they can have visiting hours with the facility which can give the staff extra virtual resource. Help the facilities show staff appreciation; create a committee that provides the staff much needed treats cards, and anything to boost morale.  Finally, have our local clergy available by phone or virtually to the residents, families and staff during these very trying times.    

Director Verma, we are desperate for a partnership. We both have the same end goal. Let’s work as a team and change the course of this pandemic.

Tamar Abell is the CEO of TBA Consulting Group.