“Nate’s Care Corner” posts are authored by Ceca Foundation’s President, Nate Hamme, and are intended to provide insights and educational information on best practices in the employee engagement and recognition industry.

During the first few months of the pandemic, people around the world saw rising infection totals and people dying. For many, panic was setting in and things looked bad, to say the least.

But, eventually, we all came to understand we have a shared responsibility to care for one another.

We saw the good in no greater measure than watching those in healthcare. We saw people give thanks by banging pots and pans or signing songs out their windows. It provided a powerful sense of connection during a time of extreme isolation.

Flash forward a year and optimism is once again on the upslope. Effective vaccines were developed quicker than we could ever have imagined. Hospital capacity seems relatively stable. And we are all looking forward to a somewhat normal summer where we can visit loved ones. And yet, there is little doubt that Covid will be a fact of life going forward.

What is particularly problematic is that nurses, doctors, CNAs and other healthcare professionals who already had stressful jobs are at record levels of burnout. But they understand they can’t let up in their sacrifice and service to a weary public yearning for normalcy and to try and keep infection rates from spiking again.

The New York Times recently reported that in US nursing homes over the last year, “the average annual [turnover] rate was 128 percent, with some facilities experiencing turnover that exceeded 300 percent.” This is still very much a crisis for our nation’s long-term care facilities, just as it is for those in acute-care settings.

So what do we do? And how do we keep up the gratitude for our healthcare workers?

Some actions are being take at the policy level. The California legislature recently introduced the Health Care Worker Recognition and Retention Act, which would dedicate $6 billion to bonuses for healthcare workers. Companies under 100 employees would be the recipients of state funding, with companies over 100 employees footing the bill for their staff members. This is one way of compensating those who sacrificed so much over the last year.

Healthcare focused associations are also looking to do their part. The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living and LeadingAge recently advocated for the Care for Our Seniors Act. These policy reforms look to, among other things, address “clinical improvements that enhance quality of care, workforce improvements to strengthen and support our frontline caregivers, oversight reforms to make systems more resident-driven, structural modernizations focused on resident dignity and safety.” It is a sweeping proposal that would go a long way to enhancing the capabilities of SNF, Assisted Living, Personal Care, and Senior Living communities and prepare them for the daunting possibility—or rather, likelihood—of a future pandemic.

These efforts alone, however, are not sufficient to overturn the burnout that we are seeing in healthcare, and real change will require efforts at the grassroots level to supplement them. That means individual provider organizations will need to find new and innovative ways to support their employees as well.

Research shows that pay increases and improved working conditions go a long way to improving engagement at work—the idea that employees come in every day ready and enthusiastic about doing their part to provide an exceptional level of service. However, they address only what Maslow would have referred to as the Physiological and Safety levels in his Hierarchy of Needs.

The unfortunate fact is, even before the pandemic, the healthcare industry was ranked at the bottom when it came to employee engagement scores. Only 21% of employees say they are ‘very engaged,’ and nearly one in five say their manager or company is ‘horrible’ at recognizing them. Given that the number-one reason most Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated, you have a recipe for high turnover, lower quality of care, and a poor experience for patients, residents and their families.

Let’s instead shoot for the senses of Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization that Maslow envisioned in his research to foster human motivation. There is nothing better than seeing healthcare workers passionately embrace their work as a calling; to have them find inspiration in the difference they make each day.

Whether it be through a patient, coworker, manager or leadership team member, we should be emphasizing human connection. We should be embracing the shared responsibility to care for those around us, far past physical needs. And for those in the healthcare industry, we should definitely be finding a multitude of ways to keep thanking caregivers and letting them know how much they are appreciated.

Author’s Note: Ceca is excited to use this forum to highlight stories from our healthcare heroes across the care continuum who make a difference in the lives of patients, residents and families. We’ll also look to provide insight into ways employers can strengthen their employee engagement, recognition and retention efforts in a patient-centric way.

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