Our Workers Are Stressed.

How Can We Help Them? By Tom Gresham

BrightSpring Health Services, has been on more than 20,000 senior living visits. During that


communities contending with a variety of severe circumstances affecting residents and staff. But he’s never witnessed one like the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is clearly the most challenging crisis

that we’ve ever seen for senior living,” Mills says.

Unsurprisingly, the crisis is straining senior living front-line workers to alarming degrees, putting unprecedented pressure on their mental health. Mills says senior living providers are seeing heightened anxiety, grief, and stress among their team members, especially those working in communities with high rates of infection. In response, providers are ramping up

their efforts to tend to the mental well-being of their workers and to ensure that employ- ees have access to the resources they need.

A change that’s here to stay Experts believe the new emphasis on men- tal health for senior living workers will not fade when the pandemic does, but instead will lead to an enduring, strengthened ap- preciation for the importance of resources that help workers tend to their emotional lives—a new normal for employee mental health.

“Senior living leaders must recognize the

full scope of stress for our team members and provide layers and options for support,” says Debra Westeen, vice president of hu- man resources, Christian Living Communi- ties and Cappella Living Solutions (CLC- Cappella). “Each person will experience stress, grief, and trauma differently. Having a variety of support options will be key.”


ver the past 14 years, William Mills, MD, now the senior vice president of medical affairs at

time, he has observed

A heightening of challenges The sources of stress for senior living front-line workers are clear. Christine M. Stempel, a registered nurse and senior di- rector of quality and education at HHHunt Senior Living/Spring Arbor Senior Living, says senior living team members “have to deal every day with all the worries and concerns and fears that the senior residents are expressing, in addition to also trying to be emotional support for all residents who are restricted from having visitors. If they are working in a community with COVID- positive cases, they have added worry and work challenges around [personal protective equipment] and isolation requirements.” Westeen says CLC-Cappella team mem-

bers “care deeply” for their residents, and any illness causes stress and worry. When a resident dies, they grieve. Wendy McCray, PhD, a psychologist with

WellQor senior behavioral health service providers, says another major stressor is em-

ployees’ concern about exposing residents to COVID-19 or bringing the illness home to their families. “The stakes are very high on several

fronts,” she says. In their essential role, Mills says, staff

members can become targets of anxieties, absorbing concerns from residents and fam- ily members about visitor restrictions and other new limits. “People have been extraordinarily cau-

tious over the past two to three months, and I think that environment of continual caution can really drive a lot of the anxiety and stress that we've seen,” Mills says. Meanwhile, Stempel says, workers also

may be wrestling with personal issues such as childcare challenges or an unemployed family member or roommate. To avoid possibly exposing others to the virus, they may face restricted contact with their normal support systems, social circle, or significant other.

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