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Supporting Your Essential Senior Living Employees During #NALW

September 14, 2020 | Lisa Fordyce


National Assisted Living Week 2020Happy National Assisted Living Week! This year’s theme is “Caring is EssentiAL,” a nod to the heroic, essential caregivers fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. This week is not only a time to celebrate their hard work, but to raise awareness about the vital nature of the long-term care industry. The National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) has put together a planning guide, which you can access here. It offers a variety of safe ways to recognize staff throughout the week, as well as ideas for sharing your celebrations across your social channels and with local media outlets.

Although this year’s event will look and feel a bit different than previous ones, I have no doubt in my mind that organizations will find a way to make it extra special. After all, if there ever was a time to let employees know how much their hard work is appreciated, this is it. Your team members are now going on seven months of tirelessly working to keep residents, their colleagues, their families and themselves safe.

I cannot imagine the toll that all of this has taken. And I say that because when I see the many photos that providers are sharing, and even now, frontline workers never fail to have smiles on their faces. They are holding it together for residents, which is so incredibly brave and selfless. That’s why this week, I invite you to focus some, or all, of your celebrations on employee wellness.

Assemble care packages with items that promote rest and relaxation, such as essential oils, face masks, a gift certificate for a massage, etc. You can even gift them a subscription to a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. I’ve heard of many providers preparing packages of essential items like toilet paper, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, extra face masks and a meal for their family to save employees a trip to the store after a long shift. Even a grocery store or gas gift certificate can help alleviate some of the financial hardship they might be experiencing right now due to a spouse or loved one being out of work.

I know it is difficult to talk about, but it must be mentioned. The pandemic is having a devastating effect on the mental health of the entire world, especially essential workers. New research found that more than half of essential workers reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom from the pandemic and that 20% have had suicidal thoughts. And we cannot forget those that were experiencing mental health issues prior to the pandemic who may experience worsening symptoms. Even though many of your staff members are putting on a brave face each time they come into work, they very well could be struggling on the inside.

Unfortunately, symptoms of mental distress are often not easy to spot, and as I said, many are not letting them show at work. Plus, the scary part of all of this is that we don’t even understand the long-term effects that the pandemic will have on people in terms of PTSD and other trauma-related illness.

That is why we must do our best to care for own right now. Have managers take some time this week to sit down with each direct report and have a serious conversation about all of this. Ask them how they are doing, and where they could use more support. Ask them how their family and friends are doing. Invite them to share their experiences. Let them know you are there for them anytime they need to talk.

You could even arrange a support group session to have employees gather and talk about their experiences. This will not only help them feel less alone during this time but build stronger team bonds for the future.

There are so many ways to promote wellness for your employees and I urge you to extend these efforts into the future. Put regular chats with employees on your calendar and regularly remind employees of the resources at their disposal. Work with other team leaders to create support programs and even ask employees themselves what you can do to help them during this time. One positive thing to come out of the pandemic is that we have become more in tune with our employees and I have no doubt you all will continue this trend in our new normal.

I hope you have a fantastic #NALW and thank you and your team for the sacrifices you’re making during this time.

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About Lisa Fordyce

Having started her career as a caregiver and expanding into operations leadership, Lisa has held senior executive operations positions at national senior housing organizations, leading overall business strategies and day-to-day operations to deliver quality resident care and services. She is one of the most widely recognized operations leaders in the senior living profession and is known for her ability to make an impact by emphasizing both business and quality care. Prior to joining OnShift, Lisa was Chief Operating Officer at Senior Lifestyle Corporation, leading the overall operational strategies. She has held operations management positions with Emeritus Senior Living and ARV Assisted Living and served as an Ohio Assisted Living Association Board Trustee. Lisa is also an avid volunteer, raising money for Lungevity - Breathe Deep Newark, working as a teacher volunteer for preschool and k-3 children, and participating in a Helping Hands program at her local church.

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