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5 Ways to Support Senior Care Workers in COVID-19 and Beyond

For leaders working in senior care and healthcare facilities, supporting staff during the best of times can be a challenge. But during a pandemic, when most facilities are stretched beyond capacity, leaders must find innovative solutions to effectively support their frontline staff.

Senior care and healthcare leaders should take particular notice of how they are supporting their staff during this unanticipated and volatile COVID-19 climate, while also planning for what lies ahead in the post-COVID world.

A recent study by the National Healthcare Retention and RN Staffing Report says that hospital turnover averaged 18.2 percent in 2017 - the highest ever recorded turnover for almost a decade in the industry. Furthermore, the Canadian Nurses Association warns that Canada will experience an extreme shortage in nurses in the coming years, predicting a shortage of 60,000 nurses by the year 2022.

In the United States there has been a 30 percent rise in the number of American healthcare employees who describe themselves as merely “contributing” rather than actively engaged in their jobs. Data from Quantum Workplace research, which surveyed 75,000 employees across the U.S., discovered that within the healthcare industry sit some of the most disengaged employees in the country.

Yet studies show that with increased staff engagement comes better patient outcomes. In a Gallup study, for example, highly engaged hospital nurses experienced superior patient outcomes and decreased mortality rates, while less engaged nurses saw an increase in patient mortality rates. The researchers determined that the engagement level of nurses was the number-one factor where patient mortality was concerned.

Despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, healthcare and senior care leaders should not lose sight of the well-being, safety and future career paths of their frontline staff.

The following five strategies can help in driving a focused and positive effort to support frontline workers during the pandemic and beyond.

Prioritize Psychological Well-Being and Safety:

In a psychologically safe environment, staff feel empowered to speak up and discuss the challenges they are facing at work; they know they will be supported by their manager and the team. This in turn leads to staff modelling positive behaviours of support and connection with their peers.

A psychologically safe environment also means zero tolerance for bullying – senior care and healthcare staff should feel supported and respected when sharing their experiences without fearing blame or retaliation.

The pandemic has certainly brought additional emotional stress to the senior care and healthcare practices. Implementing a zero-tolerance policy related to bullying and disruptive behaviour, including professional codes of conduct and educational resources, will help encourage staff to speak up about their experiences, knowing their psychological well-being and safety is of paramount importance to their employer.

Encourage Professional Development

During times of stress, it is easy for senior and healthcare leaders to lose sight of the importance of professional development programs for staff. But it is crucial during times of crisis for organizations to ensure that their staff have access to professional development opportunities.

Formalizing and tracking the results of professional development opportunities can help play a key role in vital career-growth learning opportunities – for newly graduated employees and seasoned veterans.

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Increase Engagement

In Canada, employee turnover has risen 5% across all healthcare jobs over the last decade. To avoid turnover and ensure that frontline staff feel supported, consider finding effective workforce management and employee scheduling software systems that make staff feel more valued. Many day-to-day processes—from shift callouts to staff communications and scheduling—currently rely on antiquated technologies and practices that drive inefficiencies and increase expenses, resulting in administrative burdens, poor staff communications and low staff satisfaction.

Advances in technology can help healthcare organizations meet candidates where they live—on their mobile devices and also help healthcare organizations improve the way they manage the workforce. For example, employee scheduling software all allow for more effective and streamlined hiring, retention and engagement practices in senior care facilities that contribute to improving the employee experience.

Promote Self-Care

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Canada, many frontline employees working in senior care facilities continue to suffer from extreme stress, with burnout rates approaching 50% in some physicians and nurses. Female healthcare workers, who comprise 80 per cent of Canada’s health workforce, are particularly vulnerable to burnout and stress related to COVID-19, because of their primary roles as parents and caregivers,according to the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

It is crucial for healthcare and senior care leaders to encourage staff to practice self-care techniques, such as taking regular breaks, taking vacation days, and modeling appropriate work-life boundaries, which all contribute to the health and happiness of employees.

Reduce the Mental Health Stigma

Research shows us that healthcare workers are at a higher risk of facing mental health challenges – and they are less likely to seek help or treatment, due largely to stigma.

To more effectively support staff, senior care and healthcare organizations must work to change the perception of mental illness, particularly when considering the fact that healthcare workers such as nurses, who have witnessed COVID-related deaths and suffering, may experience a parallel pandemic of post-traumatic stress.

If staff are showing signs of mental illness or stress, encourage them to seek help from a mental health provider. Crisis Services Canada provides a list of resources and counselling centres across the country (including local bereavement support groups).

Here are a several other resources: 

  • CAMH: In response to the pandemic, CAMH launched ECHO Ontario Coping with COVID in support of connection, resilience and community among healthcare providers. With over 500 healthcare providers and residents registered, and numbers steadily growing as more professionals seek support, the new program builds on ECHO Ontario Mental Health, a virtual training model that supports providers to deliver high-quality, evidence-based mental health and addictions care in local communities. For more information on ECHO Ontario Coping with COVID, visit: https://camh.echoontario.ca/echo-coping-with-covid/

  • Mental Health Commission of Canada: Leading the development and dissemination of innovative programs and tools to support the mental health and wellness of Canadians, the MHCC offers a series of resources for individuals coping with COVID-19 related mental health issues, including information and tip sheets, training, webinars and other resources. For more information visit: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/mhcc-covid-19-resources

  • The Government of Canada: Providing useful resources, tools and services to help improve and maintain mental health, the webpage includes links to crisis service centres and crisis lines, distress centres, stress management tools, mental health activities, videos and other information. For more information: https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/covid-19/protect-mental-health.html

  • Crisis Services Canada: Crisis Services Canada (CSC) is a national network of distress, crisis and suicide prevention line services that has been helping Canadians since 2002. Offering COVID-19 mental health resources, FAQ’s, links to other support organizations, as well as access to immediate suicide prevention and support. For more information: https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/

  • Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: The CCOHS is Canada’s national resource for workplace health and safety. CCOHS resources include podcasts, webinars, courses and e-learning, and helpful health and safety fact sheets, all on mental well being. https://www.ccohs.ca/topics/wellness/mentalhealth/#ctgt_wb-auto-18

  • The Canadian Mental Health Association: Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada, with a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory. The CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, and support recovery and resilience. The CMHA offers free online support such as training and tools, job specific strategies, workplace management techniques, and other resources for employees. https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/

  • Wellness Together Canada: Funded by the Government of Canada in response to the unprecedented rise in mental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wellness Together Canada offers is a mental health and substance use website to support people across Canada and Canadians living abroad in both official languages. In partnership with Stepped Care Solutions, Kids Help Phone and Homewood Health, Wellness Together Canada provides no cost resources such as immediate text support, information and videos on common mental health issues, mental wellness programs with or without coaching, and individual phone, video and text counselling. For more information: https://ca.portal.gs/

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