Overwhelmed: Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers strive to deliver the highest-quality care, but they are often at risk of burnout.

The physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations can wear down the effectiveness of staff in caring for their patients, their colleagues, and themselves. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes burnout as an occupational hazard. It can result in safety issues for patients and the exit of talented workers from the profession of healthcare.

Attacking the problem

“Preventing burnout is essential to reducing the clinician shortage, retaining high-quality staff, and improving patient outcomes,” says Kristin Johnson, regional human resources and safety consultant at StoneGate Senior Living. A leading provider of senior living services, StoneGate employs more than 3,900 staff in its rehabilitation, skilled nursing, assisted living, respite care, and memory care facilities in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. The company has been named one of the Dallas area’s Top 100 Places to Work.

“Our commitment to supporting the health and wellness of each person who enters one of our facilities extends not only to our patients but to our care providers,” Johnson notes. StoneGate has launched several initiatives to help its staff stay mentally and physically healthy. For example, the company offers a Wellness Program across all its locations. Initiatives include discounted memberships to local gyms, periodic health fairs at each facility where all employees can have a free health screening, a 24/7 life assistance program line to call for help with life challenges and life/work balance issues, and access to the in-facility wellness and rehab departments for general health and wellness questions. “Providing these kinds of resources for our staff gives them peace of mind and outlets for monitoring, treating, and most importantly, preventing burnout.”

CONTACT US to learn how to identify caregiver burnout, and still deliver the highest-quality care to support patient health and wellness initiatives.

Addressing compassion fatigue

“Many don’t realize the kind of fortitude healthcare workers need to provide consistent, compassionate care,” says Shawn Ruff, who is also a regional human resources and safety consultant at StoneGate.

StoneGate trains employees in the hazards of “compassion fatigue,” encouraging them to eat well, sleep well, find time to decompress—and most of all talk about their feelings. “It takes not only skill and endurance but heart. Often, those most likely to burn out are those most dedicated to their roles. They’re on their feet all day. The patients and residents they care for may be severely ill or disabled and require continuous vigilance,” says Ruff.

Aligning the team

StoneGate’s teamwork approach is a prime antidote to burnout, Johnson explains. “Each day, as our front-line workers check in on patients and residents, they report back to the care team to discuss observations and issues.” This open forum helps teams tackle difficult situations together and gain insights into shared concerns. The company also uses employee surveys to solicit feedback on the work environment and address any problems.

StoneGate staff communities celebrate successes, look for opportunities to have fun together, and take extra steps to foster a feeling of family. Special employee events, from cookouts to potlucks, help deepen staff bonds.

Adopting stress-reducing technologies and ergonomic designs

“We’re always thinking about the future and how we can make life better for our employees,” Ruff says. The company has invested heavily in health information technology at its facilities, with time-saving systems that help ease staff stress. Innovations range from patient scheduling software to electronic charting, which computerizes nursing documentation systems. “Whoever’s providing care can log in real time, enter information, and be assured that patient updates can be accessed by all who need them.” The system improves clinician workflow and gives nurses more time to devote to patient-centered care.

StoneGate has also invested in facility upgrades and new buildings in several of its locations, most recently opening new facilities in downtown Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Golden, Colorado. “How communities are constructed can affect staff members’ outlooks—and help reverse burnout,” Ruff points out. “Building design and décor can play an important part in helping staff members and residents feel at home. Common spaces and resident living areas now include more personal touches in the décor, staff work spaces are arranged more efficiently and are ergonomically appropriate, and many of the previously industrial-looking aspects of our buildings have been transformed to look more like a residential home.”

According to Johnson, healthcare professionals often encounter people who need help but don’t know how to ask for it. “When someone finds it hard to reach out for help—perhaps because they don’t want to be seen as dependent or as a burden on others—health needs can go unmet and the patient may eventually require even more care.”

The same is true for professionals who are struggling but don’t know how to ask for help, she explains. “We educate our supervisors on how to watch for employees who show signs of being ‘off,’ to ask if they’re OK, and to see what we can do to assist when something’s amiss. We’re reminded of how important it is to know how to ask for help when we need it—and how to offer help to others, even when they may not know they need it.”

Aiding family caregivers

StoneGate’s front-line workers are trained not only in how to recognize burnout in themselves and each other but also in how to spot it in family caregivers. “Our staff members interact often with patient and resident loved ones and offer guidance—making sure family caregivers don’t forget to take care of themselves,” Johnson says. “It’s an honor to serve their needs.”

CONTACT US to learn how to identify caregiver burnout, and still deliver the highest-quality care to support patient health and wellness initiatives.