Kristy Wikum

As we enter the third year of this COVID pandemic, we are grateful that some restrictions are starting to lift.  Unfortunately, there are deeper limitations that have stuck with many of us as we have come through this harrowing experience.  

What I am speaking about is the toll the pandemic has taken on mental health. I would not be surprised if everyone experienced some sort of mental health issue during the past few years, even if it was only for a short period of time. It truly has been unlike any other threat that we have witnessed.

When you think of caregivers, we typically think that they are strong people who have dealt with adversity and are used to it. Yet, COVID is a whole other scenario. I really started noticing the huge amount of stress it was placing on my staff early on, when the pandemic started. 

At first, I was so busy keeping up with the vast amount of guidance that came out from the health department and the CDC, that I really did not even have time to deal with it. But, as the pandemic wore on, it became evident that I needed to do something about the mental health of my entire team.

Dealing with mental health issues also ties in so well to the last element added to the Quadruple Aim, which states, “Improving the work life of those who deliver care.” For more than 10 years I have met with a group of employees monthly to give me guidance as to how we deal with different situations. This is a group of non-managers with one person from each entity that we oversee. 

After deciding that it was time to help my staff deal with any mental health issues, I met with my group of employees. I gave them the assignment of going back to their coworkers and discussing what we could do to make their work life more fulfilling and less stressful. 

The responses that I received to this question were amazing and impressive. Over the course of a couple of months, through many discussions, we worked to make some of the changes that had been suggested. These improvements included how we measured productivity, how we staffed weekends, and how we dealt with performance improvement plans. 

In addition to these, we added such things as sending out an inspiring saying or quotation every Monday and calling it Monday Mindfulness. We added the ability to take Mental Health Days as well as incorporating hour-long mental health seminars about topics like resilience, and dealing with stress. Although this is not inclusive of all that was recommended, we really felt that we made a dent in adding these little changes that made a huge difference in our staff members’ lives.

Now, this element of the Quadruple Aim has been added to our strategic plan and we continue to work on it each year. Dealing with this topic has been incredibly meaningful to me and to my staff.  

Making changes to allow for more lenience has allowed my employees to gain further confidence and trust in Centrex. They also have had to acquire more self-accountability along with greater freedoms such as staffing weekends. It truly is amazing what happens when you truly listen to your staff’s needs — and more so when you act on their recommendations.

Kristy Wikum, MS, CCC-SLP has more than 32 years of management experience and is currently the CEO/President of Centrex Rehab.

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.