The Road to Recovery

by Amy Stewart, MSN, RN, DNS-MT, QCP-MT, RAC-MT, RAC-MTA

We are finally nearing the end of 2020. For most, the end offers up hope for a new year and new beginnings. When I reflect on this past year, I can’t help but think about the nursing home residents, staff, family members, and friends we have lost due to COVID-19, and all of the areas still seeing new cases. Many of you are trying to recover from the suffering and loss. Others of you have been able to avoid COVID-19 but live in constant fear that someday soon you’ll have to face it.

The pandemic has made us rethink and revamp how care is delivered. And as they always do, long-term care facilities have managed to navigate many of the obstacles put in front of them this year. Throughout the pandemic, post-acute care nurses and staff have:

  • Developed screening methods for staff and visitors
  • Managed visitor restrictions and developed innovative visitation methods
  • Provided contingency staffing models to meet the needs of residents when an outbreak occurred
  • Managed care delivery despite limited resources including limited staff, personal protective equipment, and lack of rapid testing
  • Built COVID-19 units to meet community needs and keep staff and residents safe
  • Learned to provide telehealth visits
  • Provided ongoing testing of all staff and residents
  • Cared for staff so they could continue to care for the residents

It’s important to remember that stressful times require periods of recovery. Now, more than ever before, LTC staff need to be able to decompress and de-stress. Nurse leaders can help staff by building a roadmap to recovery. 

How to build a roadmap to recovery

You wouldn’t take a long trip across the country without mapping out your stops. The same goes for when you are building a plan for recovery. Carefully planning out what is needed and when is paramount to the success of the recovery plan. There may need to be several stops along the way depending on the type of suffering and loss your facility has seen. The stops may not be the same for every person either, so you need to consider individualized recovery plans.

First stop – Fuel up

When taking a long trip, you need to make sure you have the resources needed to get to your final destination. This includes fuel, food, and lodging. When you begin to build your recovery plan, start by asking: do my employees have basic needs? If not, what can I do to help them get these needs so they can continue to stay healthy and come to work? Even without having COVID-19 in the facility or community, staff can suffer from anxiety, and this can lead to burnout over time. Intervene by offering to help staff with some basic self-care needs. Some suggestions you can do now include providing take-out vouchers, groceries, laundry services, or free ride-share opportunities for staff to use who are too tired to drive home. When the pandemic is over, consider what you will offer staff to help them recover. This should include resiliency education and training.

Plan your route

The road to recovery could take months or longer. For some of you, the cases of COVID-19 began 10 months ago and have subsided, for others the cases have surged, declined, and surged again, and still others are waiting in fear for their first case. The level and length of time that staff have suffered plays an important part in the time it will take to recover. Pull together a group of employees to form a “Caring for the Caregiver” taskforce. Staff empowerment can hasten recovery, get your nursing team and IDT involved in helping each other. You may have staff who have already adopted wellness techniques such as yoga instructors, someone who loves essential oils, or your dietician who can help with health food choices. You may want to start a peer-to-peer support group so staff have a safe place to go and discuss their struggles.

Keep your eyes on the road

When traveling, you need to keep your eyes on the road for unexpected obstacles. The same is true when monitoring your staff’s reactions. LTC nurse leaders need to keep their eyes on staff who have experienced high levels of stress, suffering, and/or loss. For these staff, recovery won’t be easy or quick. Watch for staff who are depressed, fatigued, have physical ailments, are hostile, have increased absenteeism, or other signs of emotional distress. These staff members need professional help and should be referred to the employee assistance program. Without professional help, they are at increased risk of suffering a chronic stress injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or burnout, and may even leave the profession.

Refresh and replenish

No one would expect to take a long trip without stopping to refresh and replenish their energy level. Staff need to refresh and replenish their energy levels too. We all have staff members who are there during difficult times, staff who work extra hours and extra shifts. As a leader, you may be working extra hours and shifts too. This isn’t sustainable over a long period of time. Everyone needs to take a break, rest, relax, and replenish their energy level so they can continue to provide care. Allow yourself to take a break and encourage staff to do the same.

Have some fun

It may be difficult to comprehend having fun during a pandemic, but laughter and humor are proven to lower stress levels. Think about what you miss most during the pandemic. Many people miss gathering with friends and celebrating. While planning group celebrations might be months or more away, you can find meaningful ways to celebrate staff. This could include celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, or other life-events such as marriage or the birth of a child by putting together a celebration board.

The goal of a recovery plan is to help improve your LTPAC staff’s resiliency, which is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. The above outlines a few things that leaders can do to help build staff resiliency. Take time to find out how your nursing team and IDT are doing and ask them what they need. You may find the needs of your staff are slightly different, requiring some alterations in your recovery plan.

For more helpful advice on resiliency, read the article “10 Tips for Cultivating Resiliency in Facility Staff” by AADNS Curriculum Development Specialist, Denise Winzeler, BSN, RN, LNHA, DNS-CT, QCP.

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