Bridging the CNA divide

After my session with Evelyn, who painstakingly typed her thoughts on her computer, I stopped at the nursing station to relay her message.

“Can you tell me which aide works with Evelyn B. in 302?” I asked the nurse.

“Ms. Johnson,” she said, and pointed to a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in a light blue uniform.

Hearing her name, Ms. Johnson turned and glared at me. “How do you know it was me?”

Surprised, I smiled and spoke in a soothing tone to reassure her. “Did you work with Ms. B. this morning?”

She put her hands on her hips and spit out a single word. “Yes.”

“Well, she wanted me to let you know she really liked the way you did her hair today.”

“Oh.” She appeared surprised by the compliment, but unwilling to discard her initial suspicion. “Thanks.” She turned and walked away.

* * *

In 14 years as a psychologist in long-term care, I’ve occasionally come across an aide who was willing to collaborate with me in helping a resident. We discussed troublesome behavior and found ways to work around it, shared information, and developed a friendly collegial relationship. I’m disappointed such instances are exceptions rather than the rule, and I’d like to see this change. The way I see it, the psychologist is the CNA’s friend, here to make your job easier, not to write you up.

The current punitive system in facilities, where CNAs are more likely to be disciplined than rewarded, poses challenges to collaboration, but I think we can do better. I’d like to find ways to bridge this divide, and I need your help. If you have suggestions, or experience with developing alliances between nursing staff and other members of the team, please leave them in the comments section, or send me a message. Let’s start the teamwork right here.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at

Topics: Articles