Nursing Homes

11/16/2021 | By Steve Cook

The coronavirus pandemic has made many difficult jobs even more challenging – including professional caregiving in senior care facilities. We offer five easy suggestions for caring for caregiving staff, especially during these unprecedented times.

I recently read a report that, while not exactly surprising, was indeed troubling. According to data analysis done by Scientific American magazine, employment in nursing homes was one of the deadliest jobs in America in 2020. Working in a nursing home was riskier than being a logger or construction worker.

Each day, more than 2.5 million nursing assistants help elderly or frail persons living in their own homes, nursing homes, and other long-term care settings. They provide nearly 80% to 90% of the direct care received by clients in long-term care facilities.

Even in the best of times, professional caregivers face physical and emotional trials and challenges. The pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties. “In a relentless pandemic, nursing-home workers are worn down and stressed out,” said a Dec. 3, 2020 article in the Washington Post. A vocational nurse who had worked a 12-hour shift every night stated, “The people in the community have no idea what we are going through. And no one cares, either.”

Despite the often-justified feelings that “no one cares,” most of us who have family members whose health, safety, and life rest in the hands of such caregivers do appreciate these dedicated individuals. We live in hectic and often trying times, which can bring out the worst in people. Hence, it might be beneficial to reflect on what we personally can do to express our empathy, support, and appreciation.

Tips for caring for caregiving staff

We have compiled a list of suggestions, which have been offered by several experts in the industry:

1. Treat caregivers with respect and kindness

Establish a rapport with caregiving staff and ask their opinion on issues of care. One executive with the National Association of Health Care Assistants advised, “Talk to them and treat them like a human being, like someone with expertise, because a lot of times CNAs don’t get treated like that. We get treated like we’re undereducated, like we don’t know anything. And that’s not true at all.”

Remember, too, that staff members have lives outside of work, and they might be stressed out by child care, relationships, finances, and many of the same issues that the rest of us must manage.

2. Be patient

Ask – don’t assume – whether they can speak to you at that moment. Often the nursing assistants are responsible for several patients and are multitasking in an effort to give each patient the care that he or she needs. One CNA said, “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be happy to talk.”

3. Ask questions of the right people

Like most workplaces, staff at senior living facilities serve different roles. If you want to know about medication that you or a loved one is getting, a resident assistant can’t provide you with that information. But you can politely ask, “If you’re not sure of the answer, who would be able to help?”

4. Express thanks

A geriatric care manager in St. Louis, Catherine Ray, offered this advice to families who have a loved one in a senior care facility. “A really valuable way to communicate is to be able to thank the staff for something they’ve done, something specific” she said.

5. Share your positive impressions with the bosses

“Don’t be shy about praising an assistant to higher-ups,” Ray added. How might you do so? Why not send a letter or an email to the administrator or to the facility’s corporate office to let them know what a great job their employee is doing?

6. Go the extra mile

Small tokens of appreciation provide a meaningful way of caring for caregiving staff. These tokens can brighten a staff member’s day, such as a hand-written card, a small bouquet of flowers, or a gift certificate to a local coffeehouse. Be sure to check with management, though – some prefer that individual employees not be singled out but would prefer gifts that can be shared, such as a fruit or individually wrapped candies.

Yes, there are indeed many who have chosen careers as caregivers to our seniors. When asked what motivated them to pursue such a course, many will offer such expressions as, “I love working with the geriatric population.” Or, “This job offers me the ability to form lasting relationships with patients, seeing them through their recovery.” Despite their love for the profession, the last couple of years have taken their toll. If we are presented with the opportunity to help them to feel appreciated – and, after all, it’s often our loved one whom they are helping – would it not be the wise and caring course to do so?

Steve Cook

Freelance writer Steve Cook brings his life experience to topics at Seniors Guide as well as his insights as a longtime writer. In addition to lifestyle topics, he brings a distinctive flavor to his favorite topics: culinary enjoyment and travel.