Contending with employees’ pandemic-related stress

In “Keeping workers will be biggest struggle for nursing homes as pandemic persists, national policy expert predicts,” McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Staff Writer Danielle Brown reports on the staffing problems outlined by Harvard Medical School health care policy professor David Grabowski, Ph.D. He anticipates that, because of a lack of support, direct caregivers will leave the field due to pandemic-related burnout.

The underinvestment in workers includes problems such as “PPE, testing, the failure to pay our staff a living wage, failure to offer them sick leave and other benefits.” I’d argue that in addition to these failures, there’s been inadequate emotional support of staff around pandemic-related stresses.

Pandemic effects

Along with the changes staff members are experiencing in their home lives and neighborhoods, they may have had to deal with the sudden demise of numerous beloved residents and the families that visited them, the change in job environment from an atmosphere of camaraderie and care to one of danger and fear, the strain of aiding residents who are separated from their families, and, because of visitor restrictions, seeing only the grief-stricken family members of those who are dying.

Along with worries about having adequate PPE and the physical and financial ramifications of a positive coronavirus test, also contributing to the burnout are the need to wear extensive PPE and to function with continually shifting team members due to virus-related staff shortages.

Recognizing and managing trauma

Leaders seeking to retain their employees, attract new ones and create a positive organizational culture should acknowledge that their direct care workers have been or are currently going through a demanding and possibly traumatic experience and should help them attend to its emotional impact. Research shows that poorer wellbeing and higher burnout are associated with reduced quality and safety of patient care, greater absenteeism, and increased turnover rates.1

A 2018 review of the literature on “Traumatic stress within disaster-exposed occupations” finds that while most employees are able to restabilize emotionally within a month after a work catastrophe, there are certain factors that make this more difficult.

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