Helping the helpers: Nursing home research suggests tackling staff health and morale to fight COVID-19 spread

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In order to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Texas nursing homes, health and design experts suggest starting by addressing burnout and low morale among front-line workers in these homes.

These researchers from the Design Institute of Health have been studying the senior care industry since the summer, when the pandemic raged inside these facilities and threatened vulnerable residents.

“We recognized early in the research that, really, the system survives on the force of will and generosity, and the work of those essential care workers. Actually supporting them and ensuring that they stay well is critical in ensuring the system stays well,” said Stacey Chang, executive director of the institute.

Ideas developed by healthcare professionals and designers from the Design Institute for Health.
(Screenshot taken from a Nursing Home System Study presentation)

The researchers developed four major prototypes that will be implemented in local nursing homes in January, as a part of a pilot program that will last until March 2021.

They presented some ideas and design prototypes to the Austin City Council at their work session on Tuesday.

  • Essential Care Pantry: This food and supplies pantry could serve as an on-site shopping option for nursing home staff, allowing them to safely stock up on essentials. They will begin partnering with food distribution groups and nonprofits for donations, as well as identifying physical spaces for use, adjacent to the homes involved in the program.
  • Gratitude Portal: This digital initiative would serve to celebrate the long-term care community and profiling front-line staff from facilities in Travis County.
  • Service Connection: This online hub would connect long-term care workers to businesses and offering their COVID-19-safe services at discounted rates, exclusively for the long-term care community.
  • One-on-One Support: This dedicated phone line would connect long-term care workers with a licensed mental health professional for convenient, short-term case management and access to community resources

One outstanding concern noted by the experts was the historically low wages available for long-term care employees, but they said making substantive changes for better pay could take policy and legislative action.

Austin City Councilmember Ann Kitchen thanked the study participants for their ideas about how the community can help these workers.

“What I appreciate about this are the innovative ideas that are really ‘do-able,'” she said. “We don’t have to wait on the legislation.”

  • Read the full report here.

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