Despite Pressures Nursing Home Caregivers Shine

With the world pandemic of the coronavirus, the nation’s nursing homes have been experiencing the pressure of protecting their residents from isolation and infection. The close living quarters of a nursing home means a high risk of spread for this respiratory virus. The New York Times indicates that over 40% of the US coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes: a significant cause for concern for those who live in a nursing home or have a loved one residing there.

Nursing homes have taken many precautions to prevent this coronavirus from entering their facilities, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has created a toolkit featuring their innovative solutions. One of the first recommended guidelines is to restrict all visitors and volunteers and to cancel all group activities. While effective for decreasing the risk of spread, the resulting isolation may impact mental health and contribute to a decline in overall health.

This impact spreads beyond the resident to the families, loved ones, healthcare providers and the nursing home staff as a whole. Nancy McDonald, RN, CPHQ, daughter of a nursing home resident and director of quality improvement for the South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care (SDFMC), recognizes the value of a caring staff.

“Just seeing the compassion shown to my father gives me peace. When I cannot be there, he is treated with respect and love and for that I am truly grateful!”

Right: McDonald’s father is led outside for his first family visit in months holding the hand of a nursing home caregiver.

In her positions with SDFMC, McDonald has seen the benefits of partnerships and collaborative efforts to support nursing home care. As a partner of the Great Plains Quality Innovation Network, SDFMC is involved in the current quality improvement initiatives identified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition, SDFMC supported almost 60 South Dakota nursing homes in the implementation of Music & Memory®, a program focused on helping those with physical and cognitive challenges to find renewed meaning and connection in their lives through the gift of personalized music.

Activities, such as Music & Memory, are often the daily highlight for residents and staff by providing a time to engage, socialize, communicate, and laugh. The limitations imposed by the COVID-19 guidelines has led nursing home activity directors to seek creative solutions. The Life Care Centers of America has pulled together a collective list of activities to help keep their residents active, social and healthy. Below is a brief list of potential activities:

  • Room service cards to allow the resident to choose their activity
  • Art/coloring contests
  • Pen pal program
  • Traveling beauty cart (if they look good, they feel good)
  • Name the baby photo, name the wedding photo, scrapbook displays
  • Rolling activity carts
  • Virtual tours of national museums online

Beyond activities, the fluctuating number of cases also impacts visitation methods and hours. For those unable to visit in-person, I-pads are being used to connect via social media or live streaming options. Leading Age states that facilities can apply to purchase up to $3,000 of adaptive communicative technologies for their residents using Civil Money Penalty (CMP) Reinvestment funds.

During nice weather, many facilities have scheduled visitation for families and loved ones in the facility’s outside spaces and courtyards. Many remain in their rooms and interactions with caregivers and other staff members are lifelines.

McDonald reflected, “The shear impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the long-term care industry, staff, residents and loved ones is immeasurable. Also immeasurable is the impact of the true love and compassion caregivers express on a daily basis!”

In her view, caregivers are angels and deserve her full gratitude for their presence in her father’s life. “Thank you for showing up! Thank you for caring! Thank you for taking the time! Thank you for keeping him busy! Thank you for keeping him safe! Thank you for being there! Thank you for connecting with us! Thank you for holding his hand! “