We often take the persons who take care of the elderly for granted. We assume that these people come to work every morning with a smile on their face, a willingness to care and a never ending patience; all attributes we consciously look for in staff working with the elderly. However do we ever stop to think how staff, who come to work day in day out, feel when residents they have cared for, sometimes for years, pass away?
Having worked in long term care for many years, I myself still cannot get used to a resident passing away and I always feel a sense of loss. Some residents build stronger bonds with staff than others, but all of them are missed once they are gone. Carers and nurses in long term care will tell you stories about being at their bedsides during their last hours and most remember every detail. Relatives refer to them for strength and consolation. It is not always easy to separate the emotional from the professional and I have seen many times a nurse or carer cry when a resident passes away. We are all human after all.
We can often as managers take our staff for granted in this regard and not appreciate that they too are grieving. We expect them to go on with their work with a smile. Not many stops to ask if they are OK. Often in healthcare we speak about support being given to nurses in ICU setting or A and E where the stressors are considered to be great. However little is discussed or given importance to staff working with the elderly who are faced with death day in day out; who are expected to go on with the job even after having lost someone they cared for , for years. We expect them to deal with seeing someone slowly approaching end of life, or getting more and more debilitated without batting an eyelid. They too are however coping with losses.
I feel that there should be more awareness about this subject if we truly want our staff to keep on caring and not become immune to pain and suffering, be it physical or emotional. We have to recognise that their own experience of loss exists and give it its significant importance. As managers we have to find the time to debrief staff after a death and also to show care and understanding by asking them how they are especially when they are caring for someone who is palliative or at the end stages of life. If this does not happens, we might unknowingly be cultivating a culture of indifference which will ultimately reflect itself in how carers will take care of residents. They will seek to remain detached in order not to have to cope with the feelings that caring brings with it especially after a loss. The onus to avoid this from happening stands with us as managers.