Workplace demands in assisted living facilities and long-term care centers can be extremely stressful. Caring for at-risk seniors – providing medical and supportive care plans – requires exhaustive labor and an unwavering attention to detail. Because of these demands, caregiver burnout is a very real issue and one that has put both caregivers and facility residents at risk. Facility managers need to understand caregiver burnout and to implement ways of reducing the stresses inherent in care for elderly residents. As a part of risk management for assisted living facilities, gaining an understanding of this important issue can reduce or eliminate many common factors that lead to liability claims.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
In any industry and workplace, particularly those that are demanding or stressful, workers face the risk of burnout. Burnout is the phenomenon where a person experiences a profound state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. In the healthcare field, especially in assisted living facilities (ALFs) and nursing homes, caregiver burnoutis not only common, but it has the potential to be a dangerous condition that affects residents and fellow staff members alike. Symptoms of burnout include:
- Chronic fatigue or tiredness that cannot be overcome by rest
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Mental confusion
- Behavioral changes, including depression and irritability
- Difficulties in relaxing or sleeping
- Self-destructive behaviors such as increased alcohol use or overeating
- Emerging or worsening health conditions
There is no one clear cause of burnout, but several factors may influence the development of this serious issue. Primarily, caregivers in facilities that are understaffed or poorly managed are at higher risk of developing burnout, as are those who face excessively high workloads.
Staff members of ALFs who are struggling with burnout may make errors in judgement or decision-making ability; these errors could prove dangerous or even fatal, such as if a medication or medical treatment error should occur. For facility managers, caregiver burnout can eventually lead to claims of negligence or neglect, and while specialized assisted living facility insurance is designed to protect against these claims, expenses and legal defenses can add up quickly.
Combatting Caregiver Burnout
ALF managers know that their reputation and their business depends on the competent, compassionate care provided to residents. If caregiver burnout should negatively impact the facility, the long-term ramifications may be harmful, not only to residents and staff but to business continuity. Combatting this phenomenon helps to ensure that caregivers are able to continue providing a high level of care for residents. Tips for helping to avoid burnout include:
- Implementing wellness programs for caregivers, including exercise and healthy eating programs.
- Providing stress-reduction training, which can include practices like yoga or meditation.
- Creating flexible work schedules, such as flex-time or alternating shifts.
- Encouraging breaks during the workday and also monitoring employees for overworking. Breaks, including vacations, can help reset employees who are beginning to experience the early signs of burnout.
- Providing supportive care, including counseling resources.
- Establishing a positive workplace culture that recognizes the value and contributions of each employee through rewards programs or even simple (and regular) acknowledgment on the part of managers.
Although operating budgets may be tight in many ALFs, staffing levels have been shown to influence caregiver stress levels dramatically. For facilities that are understaffed, their employees are more likely to experience burnout. Ensuring adequate staffing levels may sometimes be a challenge, but the benefits of having enough employees cannot be overstressed. If left unchecked, caregiver burnout can lead to significant workplace hazards and may result in worsening health outcomes or even untimely deaths of residents. Protecting workers and residents against these avoidable hazards is imperative.
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.