Updated: Oct 22
By Mark Romano, Co-founder, Motivation Medics Inc
To improve staff retention in long-term care, the emotional demand on health care assistants must be further investigated and understood. Prior to entering long-term care, most residents and their families experienced difficult emotions such as fear, anger, guilt, grief, and loss several months, if not years, prior to entering long-term care. The transition from home to long-term care, and eventually death involves complex emotions and transition.
The complexity of emotions experienced by residents, family caregivers, and staff is an important consideration for long-term care providers because it allows a glimpse into the enormity of the emotional demand on a health care assistant and subsequently, a glimpse into one of the major drivers of staff turnover in long-term care.
Health care assistants provide up to 90% of direct care to residents in long-term care and manage the majority of communication with family caregivers.
Emotional literacy and communication skills training support health care assistants to have sensitive and sometimes difficult conversations, including end-of-life conversations with residents, family caregivers, and co-workers.
When an adult enters a long-term care facility, they are often suffering from depression along with anger, confusion, and sadness. In addition, family caregivers are often suffering emotionally, experiencing guilt, sadness, grief, and loss.
Over the next months and years, the health care assistant will provide physical and emotional comfort to the resident, and emotional comfort to family caregivers. A natural consequence of the role is close familial-type relationships that are deeply grieved upon death. The frequency by which health care assistants witness death in long-term care adds to the emotional toll.
There are few other professions that witness the amount of death and dying on the job, yet it is not uncommon for health care assistants to have no formal training in grief and loss, or emotional health and literacy.
The consequences of not providing the necessary psycho-emotional support will continue to be poor staff retention and high staff turnover as more and more health care assistants quit their job, unable to find meaning in what they do because of difficult and unaddressed emotions.
To improve staff retention and wellness, it is important for leaders in long-term care to implement support and training programs that are easily accessible and designed to help health care assistants manage the emotional demand of their role. Staff requires support to process complex emotions, including grief and loss related to the job. When that support is not present, difficult emotions can be left unresolved, leading to absenteeism and illness.
We all manage grief in different ways, some are more resilient than others for different reasons, It’s when we don’t grieve, that we end up creating other problems in our lives
A combination of counseling support, psycho-education, and peer mentorship support the retention of health care assistants in long-term care with a focus on:
· recognizing grief in self and others
· processing grief and loss
· communication skills training
The more prepared health care assistants are to recognize grief symptoms in themselves and others, the healthier they will be in their role. Without interpersonal skills training and psycho-emotional support, health care assistants are ill-prepared to manage the emotional demand of the role and will eventually exit the job.