The Midwest (Week 5)

I experienced another “first” this past weekend. We went to the horse races! Neither one of us had ever experienced them before, so mark another item off of our list! We actually won a few bets, but never enough to break even. I am sure there is a science to it, but we had fun anyway.

On this day exactly one year ago, I arrived at a facility in Nevada as my first travel assignment. I had no idea what to expect. I remember the butterflies in my stomach and a slight trepidation as I walked through the parking lot to the front door. I remember the faces on the other side of that door (you all have a special place in my heart). It is so hard to believe that was a year ago. I never expected that people from 49 countries would read about my journey here on this blog (you have been so supportive through all of my vulnerabilities!). What an amazing year it has been!!

We are almost through our outbreak at the facility. It has been an exhausting 3 weeks. It is something you would have to experience yourself to truly understand the pressure and challenges that go along with the daily standard patient care. It takes the entire team to pull through. It requires care staff to work extra days/shifts to cover for the ones that are sick and it requires care staff to work extra days/shifts to be able to meet the demands of the extra precautions and increased patient care needs. All the while, there is continuous pressure from CDC, CMS, organizational leadership, and state regulations. When you add all of this on top of the emotional and psychological needs of the patients and families, it is the perfect storm.

Caregiver burnout is real. Let me tell you about it. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able to do. I have seen it in every setting that I have worked in (nothing has pushed its limits quite like the recent pandemic). It is a miserable position that often brings on feelings of depression, despair, and hopelessness to the caregiver which can then lead to an outward appearance of anger, bitterness, and frustration. It is why care givers need to be cared for, too. I have seen them criticized, shamed, and ridiculed for their behaviors instead of supported (this breaks my heart).

As a leader, I feel that it is my responsibility to create a supportive environment and that requires a multi-faceted approach. I want my staff to have the self-awareness and ability to recognize their own emotions and feelings of exhaustion. It is at these moments that I want them to “tag out”. I recognize that this is not easy for care givers. They often feel guilty for not fulfilling a need or asking for help, but I want them to know that they always have a team member or leader beside them and behind them ready to “tag in” and take over and allow them a break, no questions asked. This requires continued reinforcement to implement. Sometimes I “tag” someone out myself if I recognize certain behaviors that are out of character. No judgment, just a “Go take a break and catch your breath. I got you covered”. This is why it is also important for care staff to recognize exhaustion in their peers. It gives them an opportunity to provide support and grace to each other instead of saying and doing things that they might regret which can often escalate and lead to hostility in the work environment. Those situations become reactive and often lead to relationships that are difficult to repair (among other things).

It’s hard to believe that I am going to finish my 6th week here this week (that’s almost half way!). Wookie has some new names here. He is called “Lamb” and “Moogie” among others. He doesn’t mind, he answers them no matter. We received the sweetest message from a patient’s daughter this past week. She was visiting from another state and I am so sad that I didn’t get to say good-bye in person, but I was humbled to find her note on my desk.

The past two weeks have included some changes in the facility that I have been told were needed for years (I guess it’s that “red hair and backbone” again). I was asked by the CEO today what it would take to “keep” me, so I guess he is in support of my recommendations and implementations. The truth is that I have been considering finding a new role (permanent) near home. I don’t know if I will find one or if that is the next move for me or not. I am content to wait and see what happens because one of the most difficult decisions that I could make right now would be to stop traveling to these places and meeting all of these wonderful people/patients/teams. I trust that God’s plan is perfect and He already has the details worked out, His purpose for me is so much bigger than my plans, and where He leads, I will follow.

3 responses to “The Midwest (Week 5)”

  1. I can identify with the burnout description. After 45 years as an RN, I finally found myself no longer enjoying my work, felt pressured to produce quality work in an environment where we were not appreciated. My solution was retirement earlier than planned but what a relief. I hear complaints, still, from former co-workers & wish I could help but don’t know how. I let my license lapse so I could t be sucked back into that situation. Thank you for recognizing that sometimes we just need 5 minutes to take some deep breaths. I’m enjoying your blog.

  2. Sharon McKenzie Avatar
    Sharon McKenzie

    As I read this I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a young assisted living care director. She is contemplating leaving the industry because she’s not able to support her staff the way she knows is needed. And she can’t find the people to fill the positions. I will forward this article to her with your permission.

    1. Hi Sharon! It can be incredibly difficult to find ways to best support the team. I share in her pain. Please feel free to forward this if you think it would help 😉

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