Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion which can occur when providing care to someone who needs ongoing, extensive care and support. Caregiver burnout occurs when the person responsible for providing care does not get the help and support, they need.  The constant fear and pressure of being available during this pandemic has certainly placed added pressures on all frontline staff during an already emotionally taxing profession.

This has truly been one of the most challenging times in recent history for all healthcare providers. This pandemic has presented multiple stressors to direct care clinicians, including risk of infection, equipment shortages, social isolation, and emotional toll of losing beloved patients. All of these pressures could easily manifest into a caregiver burnout scenario.  Common signs of burnout are feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment.

Caring for your caregivers must be part of your overall Pandemic Plan.  Left unchecked, the aftereffects of this pandemic will surely include skilled and compassionate caregivers who leave the profession due to the stressors of COVID-19, as the mental health impacts are undeniable.

We all must be prepared to beat burnout, help our staff recognize the dangers, and be able to find ways to help our staff combat the effects.  We must first be able to recognize burnout, as 2020 brought most healthcare employees the most stressful year of their careers.

Start by controlling what you can, minor nuisances such as automatic text and notifications can be distracting enough to increase stress. Do you have a shared workspace?  Make sure everyone agrees on boundaries, do not let little things you can control add to an increasingly difficult situation.

Stay connected with your co-workers. Acknowledge that these are scary and uncertain times. Rely on your organization’s culture and core values. Reconnect with your co-workers and become a real team, adopt, “I got your back” attitude.  Remember to thank each other and show genuine appreciation. 

Rather than seek out single employees to recognize for outstanding accomplishments, this might be a good time to recognize the team as a whole for their dedication.  Shift the focus to showing you care rather than providing awards.  Create personal messages from your executive leadership team. Many healthcare operators are working harder than they ever have before, this is a good time to recognize them with a meaningful gift or surprise them with catered lunch, dinner, or special snack.

Finally, ensure that the caregiver is taking care of themselves. Refocus and make this a good opportunity to use some of your clinical programming aimed at stress reduction for clinicians. Tai Chi or practicing yoga are great ways to release pent up stress.  Post information for EAP call centers and urge staff to reach out. Keep communication lines open, share validated information about COVID and vaccine, there is too much false news available which only adds to stress.

There is Hope on the Horizon as vaccination clinics continue to roll out across the country.  Help support each other and be the solution.

Resources:       BLOG: This Caring Home

“Burnout of healthcare providers during COVID-19” Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine July2020; Meredith Bradley, and Praveen Chahar, MD, FCARCSI Reward Gateway: Using Connection and Recognition to Minimize Stress and Burnout in a Pandemic and Beyond