Top Ways to Support Staff Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

butterflyThe current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in stress and fear amongst the general public, but those feelings are also present – and even heightened – in staff working in senior care facilities. Essential staff who work with patients daily may be dealing with levels of fear and stress that they haven’t previously experienced. In addition to making sure that staff have the PPE and resources they need to work safely during this pandemic, facilities also need to make sure that staff’s mental health needs are met.

Create a Safer Environment

Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, PhD, LCMHC and founder of Wellness In Real Life, suggests that facilities start by making their work environments as safe for staff as possible. “Create a safer environment by enabling staff to complete tasks remotely and virtually, to the extent possible,” suggests Dr. Holland-Kornegay. Triage areas and triage hotlines are a valuable addition to facilities with a known COVID-19 presence. And, as much as possible, facilities may want to restructure their layouts and schedules to help minimize close contact between staff and residents during the workday.

A facility should also open up lines of dialogue with staff. By providing staff with the ability to openly communicate their concerns, facilities can involve staff and may gain insight to concerns or possible solutions that they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. Surveys, comment boxes, and other anonymous communication options may also encourage staff to contribute ideas and highlight issues that a facility should be aware of.

Encourage Self Care

Facilities can also encourage staff to prioritize self-care to support their mental health. “Meditation is a long-trusted tool for stress relief, relaxation, and mindfulness,” notes Dr. Holland-Kornegay. “Making time at the beginning or end of your day to refocus your energy is worth those few extra minutes.” She suggests that staff use online meditation options, like the Headspace app, which focuses on meditation and sleep. Focusing on meditation can “have a positive impact on health professionals’ personal and professional lives,” she says.

While staff may be working long hours and covering for others who are out sick, the more that a facility can keep schedules consistent and manageable, the better. Prioritizing a work-life balance becomes particularly important during this time, giving staff the time off that they need to prioritize self-care, better manage their stress, and return to work recharged and refreshed.

Maintain a Culture of Wellness

A facility’s culture plays a significant role in the well-being of staff, so facilities should focus on maintaining a culture of wellness during this time. Dr. Holland-Kornegay suggests that facilities include leaders in helping to manage staff well-being, “This can help to reduce stress in the staff. At the same time, the system must also watch out for the leaders’ needs to refresh and sustain,” notes Dr. Holland-Kornegay.

Institutional policies must be stable to support staff mental health, too. “Ensure that paid time off and sick days remain unaffected for all employees for COVID-19-related illnesses,” Dr. Holland-Kornegay suggests. Facilities should ensure that employees who experience COVID-19-related illnesses face no out-of-pocket expenses, which can help to ease both the mental and financial burden of being ill.
In addition to supporting staff with institutional policies, facilities can show staff that they’re valued and appreciated in other ways, too. Posting signs and public messages recognizing employees’ hard work and dedication regularly demonstrates to employees that they’re valued and that their sacrifices are recognized.

Make Mental Health Counseling Available

Just as staff need increased access to PPE and physical precautions, their needs for mental health counseling and support are also heightened during this time. Facilities should ensure that staff have access to counseling, whether that’s by bringing in a staff counselor or by making other arrangements for staff.

If staff are worried about the risks of meeting with a counselor in person, a facility can encourage them to explore telemedicine counseling services. Ideally, a facility can streamline the process by providing staff with contact information for counselors who not only provide telemedicine sessions, but who also accept the health insurance policies offered by the facility. When staff are stressed, busy, and tired at the end of a workday, having this information readily available may help motivate them to take the next step and enroll in counseling.

This time is full of uncertainty and stress, and senior care facility work in a particularly high-risk environment. By taking measures to support staff’s mental health during this time, facilities can help to reduce staff burnout and can help staff to better navigate the unique challenges of their daily work.

Topics: Administration , Alzheimer's/Dementia , Clinical , Departments , Featured Articles , Staffing