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COVID-19 has had a disastrous effect on nursing home staff mental health. Nearly 175,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have lost their lives to COVID-19, nearly one-third of all US fatalities.

According to a recent survey by Mental Health America, 76% of healthcare workers feel burnt out while 52% deal with compassion fatigue, or secondary trauma or stress from another’s pain. Many nursing home RNs, LPNs, and CNAs have found themselves overwhelmed by grief at losing residents. For nurses and assistants with multiple jobs, there’s also the fear of spreading COVID-19 to family or people in their care. 

Does that mean these mental health concerns are likely to disappear once things return to normal? Unfortunately, no.

In fact, compassion fatigue and burnout among nursing home staff were a concern long before the pandemic. According to IntelyCare, skilled nursing facilities had higher burnout rates among staff (37%) than hospitals (34%) in 2019. 

By taking action now, your department can champion workplace mental health during COVID-19 while laying the groundwork for a more wellness-focused culture.

Here are a few ways to address burnout and fatigue in your nursing home facility:

1. Focus on safe workplace communication

Don’t overestimate the importance of normalizing open discussions about compassion fatigue and burnout. Any educational materials, meetings, or initiatives should endorse the message that struggling with mental health is natural. This will help encourage nursing home staff to share and seek help.

Another way to create a safe space for discussion is by setting up “watercoolers” for your RNs, LPNs, and CNAs, or casual spaces to help create a culture of community. This could be a group chat platform like Slack, facility chat room, or a physical space, like a nurses-only break room or lounge.

2. Increase morale with incentives

Naturally, the incentives that come to mind first are increased pay and time off. But if you already offer “combat pay” for nurses and nursing assistants, there are a number of other incentives to consider. 

You could, for example, designate a wellness space for staff to relax or take a nap in or supply nutritional meals and snacks, especially if those on late shifts rely on vending machines. Additional options could include gift cards for favorite restaurants, personalized care packages, or discounted childcare, anything that would help relieve the stress they’re working under.

3. Offer facility-wide mental health resources

Most facilities will offer a range of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and yours is likely no different. Reexamine your offerings to see how you can expand programming to better serve your staff. 

A few ideas to help you get started:

  • In-person and online professional counseling
  • Mental health tips geared towards nurses 
  • Screening tools and hotlines 
  • Webinars featuring industry experts and mental health professionals
  • Education around compassion fatigue and burnout

Once you’ve updated your EAP offerings, make sure facility workers are aware of the resources available to them and offer short workshops or short walk-throughs so they know how to access them.

4. Enforce regular breaks and time off

Consistent time off to unwind should be accessible to all. Ask your nursing home workers about their individual needs and make it a point to accommodate flexible scheduling for home caregivers, parents, and other family or personal circumstances. 

Consider implementing a fatigue policy in the workplace by using people analytics to gain a better understanding of when and how long staff members work. When they’re off shift, limit work-focused communication so they can completely unwind, practice self-care, and spend time with loved ones.

5. Create a peer mentoring program to encourage team support

A “self-care buddy” system is a fantastic way to help your nurses and nursing assistants look out for their mental health and recognize the signs of burnout and fatigue in others. Signs to watch for include:

  • Depression or apathy
  • Irritability or tendency to lash out
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Exhaustion or restlessness

Have them pair up to offer accountability and check-in with each other regularly about things like taking short breaks, drinking water, or sitting down to eat lunch. If they’re open to it, extend the buddy system to off-hours so they always have someone to talk to.

Ultimately, addressing burnout and compassion fatigue at work leads to healthy workers who can provide quality patient care. By prioritizing their mental health during COVID-19 and beyond, you’re protecting your facility’s strongest asset: its people. 

Interested in learning more about how you can recruit, hire, and on-board healthcare staff quickly? Contact us today for a free demo of our end-to-end solution.