compassion fatigue

Compassion Fatigue: What It Is & How to Prevent It

Your clients have likely seen the signs before: anger, irritability, impaired performance, poor attendance, apathy. These are the classic signs of compassion fatigue, and the consequences can be devastating to caregivers, the care facility, and patients.

Of course, nursing staff can’t be expected to deliver peak performance at all times. Nurses and caregivers are only human, and mistakes are bound to occur from time to time. There may also be lapses in judgment, affecting the quality of care administered to patients. For these instances, nursing home insurance usually provides the necessary protection against possible liability.

But compassion fatigue is something else entirely. This condition manifests over time, usually after a prolonged period of stress and exhaustion. It is known by many other names, including caregiver burnout and stress-related exhaustion, and is typically characterized by an inability to cope and excessive grief processing. By whatever name, compassion fatigue threatens caregivers’ well-being and affects their ability to perform their duties properly.

Causes of compassion fatigue

The exact causes of compassion fatigue can be difficult to determine because the triggers vary from person to person. For some, it is the culmination of months and years working in a high-pressure environment. For others, it could be brought about by a short but intense period of providing care only to have the patient succumb to illness or injury.

It is also worth considering the combined effects of these typical work-related stresses and the holidays, which is a difficult period for most people even without the demands of a nursing care job. There is also the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required care personnel to deliver service and performance above and beyond what could reasonably be expected from anyone.

Signs of compassion fatigue

Like the causes of compassion fatigue, the signs vary from person to person. While any of these can signify that the individual is experiencing the condition, one or two on occasion may simply be the effect of everyday stress.

Even so, these symptoms are commonly associated with compassion fatigue and should be considered warning signs if they occur frequently or don’t go away:

  • Anger/irritability. These are often normal but may indicate compassion fatigue if they occur frequently and are uncharacteristic of the caregiver.
  • Obsessing over a patient’s death. This may indicate compassion fatigue if it constantly occurs and never resolves.
  • Hyperalertness/overreaction. Again, this can be normal behavior that may indicate an underlying problem if it occurs frequently or excessively.
  • Self-harm. This should always be considered a warning sign that requires immediate counseling or intervention.
  • Apathy. This is often the first sign that a caregiver is experiencing compassion fatigue.

Remember that these behaviors may not necessarily indicate compassion fatigue. But supervisors and facility administrators should talk to the caregiver in question immediately if all of these occur simultaneously, cause impaired performance, and affect the safety and well-being of the facility’s residents.

Preventing compassion fatigue in nursing care settings 

Here are some suggestions for dealing with compassion fatigue in a nursing care environment:

  1. Allow for personal closure. Nursing home supervisors should allow and encourage personnel to seek closure however they deem appropriate. Whether this means being present at the patient’s bedside or attending the memorial service, employers should support the caregiver’s need for closure.
  1. Reorganize and restructure. Employers should be prepared to reorganize schedules and workloads as needed. Doing so provides respite for workers who may have dealt with a particularly difficult incident. Employees should also be encouraged to use paid time off they have available.
  1. Provide opportunities to grieve. Employees should be allowed space and time to grieve without recrimination. Support meetings and consultations may be helpful, and workers should feel free to approach staff counselors or supervisors without feeling awkward or embarrassed. 
  1. Encourage teamwork. Employers should foster a ‘team’ environment where everyone pulls together to assist anyone struggling or grieving. All care personnel should know that they can rely on co-workers and superiors in their time of need. 
  1. Provide necessary resources. Finally, employers should provide the resources needed to help affected workers through difficult times. If the facility can’t offer in-house counseling, supervisors may provide suggestions for free outside counseling and support services.

Your clients have an important role to play in identifying signs of compassion fatigue among workers and taking steps to address them. Given the importance of nursing care staff in delivering proper care services, it is vital for supervisors and facility administrators to ensure care personnel’s mental and physical well-being. Doing so benefits the affected individuals and the entire organization as well.

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at (877) 226-1027.