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The challenge of burnout in nursing home care workers during COVID-19 – Marketplace

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Conor O’Flynn

Any business owner knows that his or her company is only as good as the staff members he or she employs. You can have all of the strategies and competence on your side, but those working under you are the ones who keep the machine running smoothly. If they’re functioning well, then you’re going to have a better working day and week. If they’re not exactly feeling 100%, then things might dither a little. 

In many different
fields, employees can suffer burnout. Burnout is a state of complete and utter
exhaustion due to the work that has been undertaken. You’ve probably
experienced this kind of thing before as you’ve probably worked your backside
off to the point where you can no longer function appropriately. It’s very
common in nursing home staff and care workers as the labor can be very taxing
on someone’s mental health and physicality. 

Burnout during COVID-19

We are all aware of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on all aspects of life. Medical personnel are feeling the brunt of this battle and yet are called upon to continue working with high energy levels, and with smiles on their faces. In particular, the staff of your nursing home are battling burnout, perhaps more seriously than the staff of other medical institutions.

Why is this?

Nobody is going home

Whether the coronavirus is managed in-house by your staff, or residents are hospitalized for a time, the bottom line is that those patients who fortunately do recover will return to or remain in the nursing home, and require more help and care than they require under normal circumstances. The virus leaves survivors in a tremendously weakened state. Your staff members are also called upon to play the roles of family members who are not permitted to visit because of the vulnerability of their elders.

Emotionally and physically draining

Your nurses, nursing assistants and direct care staff are exhausted. No matter how strong they are physically, any person will start to feel a tremendous strain when overworked. Their work is typically challenging during the best of times, but they entered this field because they can cope with it. Now, they are beset by new tasks on top of everything else they need to do. If your nursing home has coronavirus room, just the constant changing in and out of personal protective gear is enough to drain a normally energetic nurse or attendant of his or her strength.

Emotionally, aside from the legitimate worry about
their own health, as well as the impact on their families, your staff members
may be fighting depression over the decline of so many residents, as well as
grief over losses.

How to help your
staff during the pandemic

You know each and every one of your staff members like the back of your hand. You are familiar with their personalities, their quirks and what makes them tick. You are trained in the very nature of this valuable work, and how to help prevent burnout. However, this pandemic is like nothing you — or anyone else — has encountered before. The finest thing you can do is to talk, listen and support. Show your staff that you and everyone else are in this together. 

If you can afford it, offer individual staff members a day, or even a few hours respite. If time allows, organize small group sessions, and let everyone just vent. Some people are very vocal. Others are private and may be holding back. If they know you are supporting them, this can make the difference between a total breakdown and the strength to continue for just one more hour, day or week.

Other causes of burnout

Unfortunately, burnout in nursing homes was an issue prior to COVID-19. People need to be cared for, and sometimes the people responsible can only handle so much. As the owner of a nursing home, you’re going to want to keep patients in tip-top condition for the entirety of their lives. You’ll obviously want to provide the best service, but their lives and overall health matter more. 

So, if you’re
wondering what might make staff at a nursing home burnout, here are a few of
the leading causes. Hopefully, you can take these on board when you next
evaluate your staff:

Stress

Most jobs in the world come with a fair amount of stress. The top jobs that pay the most are often the most stressful, so it’s not exclusive to nursing home employees. That doesn’t mean the job can’t raise one’s blood pressure exponentially. You never know what could be going on in a nurse’s home — they could walk into work already on edge, and find themselves in a pretty awkward position in their professional lives, too. If you see your employee looking a little stressed out, you might want to sit with them and have a little chat about things. 

Lack of support 

If a care worker or nurse has lots to do, then they’re going to need a lot of help. Now, this could mean they need a little pat on the back from their superior — everyone likes an arm around the shoulder — or it could mean bringing in extra bodies into the nursing home to lighten the load. When someone is left isolated during tough times, it only adds to the issues that they may already be facing. 

Lack of job fulfillment 

Nursing homes can be inspirational places to work. Doing things for others and boosting their quality of life is a very fulfilling thing to do. Sometimes, however, that kind of thing runs out. It’s completely natural and normal to become used to something — a person becomes desensitized by anything if they’re exposed to it too much. If they feel as though their job and their lives are going nowhere, then it can be a big strain on their working day.

Poor mental health 

If a staff member is vulnerable to depression,, then a hard-hitting job such as working in a nursing home can be quite the struggle. Not everyone openly displays signs of mental health struggles, but if they do, then it’s best to sit down with them and talk things through. In fact, you’ll probably need to have a little chat with all members of your team — you truly never can be too sure. 

Conor O’Flynn is commercial director of O’Flynn Medical, one of Ireland’s biggest healthcare equipment providers, which provides healthcare advice and services to both the commercial and private sector.

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