Strategies for Improving Caregiver Health: An Interview with St. Joseph’s Guest Home
As the numbers of older adults requiring nursing or residential care increase, the well-being of nurses and care workers employed in this setting grows in importance. Burnout amongst staff is a significant problem with implications for the well-being of patients, providers, and staff and can result in serious health risks for staff and their families.1
In an interview with Vivien Lorezco, she accounts her experiences as a caregiver who has worked in multiple capacities at senior living homes for two decades. Vivien started out as a volunteer at St. Joseph’s Guest Home and Good Samaritan Board and Care in 1991. At the time, she would answer phone calls and take care of patients, often joining them in activities, such as bible study and karaoke. After receiving her nursing degree in 2005 and gaining experience in assessment care, community care, and public health nursing in various settings, she noticed a pattern of constant burnout for caregivers of older adults. Specifically, Vivien saw that caregivers were extremely exhausted during their shifts and when they go to bed each night.
Vivien describes how caregivers, in a typical day, have to juggle many responsibilities, in addition to taking care of their clients.
“You see it in their faces when they wake up in the morning. One to three caregivers are taking care of high acuity clients, where one client wants to get up all the time, the other needs their blood sugar checked, and another needs meds... It’s mentally exhausting and they keep their feelings to themselves.”
This workday may sound familiar for those who have taken care of older adults, either as a caregiver or even as a spouse. Vivien accounts that even when caregivers are sleeping, they are still on the clock and have to get up and tend to clients, as needed. On top of that, many caregivers receive minimum wage and work at multiple facilities for additional income. Due to this extensive workload, Vivien has seen caregivers experience a lack of sleep or rest and even mental health issues, like depression.
To combat these adverse health outcomes experienced by caregivers, Vivien shares the different strategies used at St. Joseph’s Guest Home that help alleviate some of the burden for their staff. Vivien states that it is important to be in tune with the needs of caregivers, establish an open line of communication, and step in to cover their role when needed. One way to relieve caregivers is to provide specific caregiver-relief staff to allow caregivers to take a break, even beyond designated break times. At St. Joseph’s Guest Home there is a garden for caregivers to enjoy for breaks or even join bible studies if they need time away from clients. It is also important to properly match clients with appropriate caregivers, most importantly ensuring that skillsets match client needs. For example, Vivien would not assign a less experienced caregiver to a client that may have complex needs. Lastly, administrative staff provides monetary incentives and gifts on special occasions (e.g., the holidays) to show appreciation for their caregivers. Even more important than tangible gifts is giving “verbal gratitude, which can uplift their spirits and help them feel more upbeat knowing they have emotional support, and their work is valued.”
While there are many strategies to decrease the physical and mental burnout experienced by caregivers, it is up to administrative staff to communicate and identify the needs of their caregivers. What is most important to Vivien is to be a good “servant leader,” who is not afraid to work hands-on with clients to give their caregivers much-needed respite. Such leadership also encourages caregivers to open up and feel like their voice is valued in their place of work. This combination of proper physical relief on the job and a sense of belonging is what Vivien believes creates a healthy work environment and healthy caregiver staff.