A Numbers Game: Resident Acuity and Staffing – Part Three

 

 

Minstrel

We cannot provide person-centered care without the personnel.  My previous comment, Part Two, presented a list of symptoms that arise from dementia.  These symptoms are the constant companions of those living with more advanced dementia, and their care partners.  The symptoms create behavioral challenges we CNAs must and want to respond effectively, so our residents can feel secure, content, at home.  

We have our list of dementia symptoms.  But wait—there’s more.  Let’s look concretely at the workday of a LTC direct-care worker.  Aides work an 8-hour shift, with one-half hour mandatory meal break.  (In some places they are also entitled to or permitted to have a second 15-minute break.)  The first and last ten or so minutes of a shift are spent getting and giving shift updates to the previous or next shift of aides.  Aides will also need one or two bathroom breaks during a shift.  Thus an aide has about 7 hours (420 minutes) left for care tasks.  This scenario doesn’t take into account the moments an aide might need for a calming ‘time-out,’ for a few minutes of helpful conversation with another aide or a supervisor, for an important phone call from home, for time spent walking from one task to another or one resident to another.   And it doesn’t allow for other encounters we expect aides to have with residents, creating ‘moments of joy.’ 

Aides will customarily be responsible for the care of six to ten residents on a shift that has plus or minus 420 minutes of usable work time.  (And would you believe the number of residents might be higher?)  If you do the math, you see that aides may have 42 to 70 minutes for each resident.  Seventy minutes to help a person exhibiting symptoms of dementia with toileting, washing (on certain days showering), grooming, dressing or undressing, moving to the dining room, eating, returning to the day room, using the toilet during the day.  And these are just the essential ADLs.   

Other tasks aides are responsible for during a shift: 

  • for safety purposes, keep alert to where each resident is;
  • distribute drinks to prevent hydration;
  • serve snacks;
  • check toileting needs and assist residents with this as needed;
  • help with transfers (from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to lounge chair, lounge chair to wheelchair, wheelchair to toilet and back several times in a day, wheelchair to bed) for those residents who cannot transfer themselves;
  • help other aides with two-person-assist transfers;
  • answer resident questions throughout the shift (“When can I eat?” “Where is my mother?” “When will my son be here?”  “I’m cold, where is my jacket?” “Don’t I have a doctor’s appointment today?”) ; 
  • in between ADLs engage with residents through conversation, music, activities;
  • accompany residents to other areas of the building as needed for medical care, hairdressing appointments, other events.

In some LTC communities aides are also responsible for making beds, doing laundry and putting it away, or other housekeeping duties.  Throughout the day there are spills to clean up, phones to answer, paperwork to be done, questions from visitors.  If an aide is tired from working a second job, or a double shift, this will slow the aide down.  If an aide has a bad back that day, or sore knees, or is pregnant, these things will also mean the aide has a lower energy level or slower response time.  All these factors take a toll.  If some aide should call out at the last minute and the shift is short-staffed, this further impacts care.   Even if forty or fifty or seventy minutes of care per resident were sufficient—and really, it’s not—at the current staffing levels in most LTC homes, residents don’t get even this.  I challenge administrators to refute this with data.  

Is it really acceptable to pare staff levels so thin that we impair not only the quality of care but the safety of residents and aides alike?  Is it acceptable that the owners of long-term care homes are sustaining their organizations by controlling their costs with sub-par staffing levels?  Those responsible for setting care and staffing standards should feel responsible for doing something about the unacceptably low staffing requirements they’ve established and tolerated, thanks to lobbying efforts of the long-term care industry.  (Shame on you, CMS.)  The rest of us should hold them accountable.  Families and direct-care workers and anyone who is an advocate for those living in long-term care communities:  Unite!  Lobby!  Write, email, text, twitter.  Demand that your care home managers and your state legislators see what is before their eyes.  For added clout, partner with organizations that advocate for better long-term care.  To any CNAs up for a little non-violent guerrilla warfare: sneak a copy of these comments to a few trusted family members of residents.  Ask them to bring the staffing issue up at a Family Council meeting.  Send a copy anonymously to your Administrator.  

Owners, operators, executives and regulators of LTC homes will say that we don’t need more staff, we need more or better training.  Our CNAs need to work ‘smarter.’  And there is something to this, we do need to look at work assignments and patterns and at aides’ understanding of how to interact with persons with symptoms of dementia, etc.  But tell me how all this will change the fact that an aide may, on a good day under ideal conditions, have 70 minutes to give a resident.  (A resident who may be paying $5000 to $8000 a month for memory care.)  

This isn’t a game.  Would we let a dog lie in a kennel and give that animal only seventy minutes of direct attention a day?  Long-term care homes don’t care for dogs, they care for human beings.  Tell me please, how can we sit still and stay quiet about this appalling reality, one minute longer? 

The Facts About CNA Wages

 

Bob Goddard

There is a great deal of confusion within the CNA community regarding the issue of wages and how it fits into the larger long term care picture. While there is general agreement that caregivers are underpaid, that perception is primarily based on personal experience, that of our own and of others. This anecdotal evidence is useful in its own right, if for no other reason than it is overwhelming. However, discussions regarding the wage issue are characterized by emotional responses and typically lack references to data that back up the arguments.  Solid facts are sometimes offered within the CNA online forums, but usually not in any kind of comprehensive or purposeful way.

In order to help us get a more accurate picture of the state of direct care work in this country, below is a list of just a few of the more significant statistics. The primary source for these is a PHI fact sheet published in August of 2017.

I think this kind of short list might be useful for those who argue for better wages for caregivers. In future posts, I’ll give my take on what I think these statistics mean.

First, just to get a sense of the scope:

15,400 long term care facilities in the United States

1.4 million residents live in these facilities

600,000 CNAs work in them

But those 600,000 are only 13 percent of the total of direct care workers employed in the United States, because…

4.5 million direct care workers are employed in all types of situations, including home care, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Assisted Living Facilities, Hospitals, Centers for Developmentally Disabled, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, Employment & Rehab.

Second, the demographics of caregivers:

91 percent are female

Half are under age 35

Half are people of color

Half have some college, (about 1 in 7 have associates degree or higher)

20 percent were born outside of the United States

Third, the money issue:

$12.34/hr is the median wage of CNAs (half make more, half make less)

$20,000 is the average annual income

Half work part time at least part of the year

17 percent live below the poverty line (compared to 7 percent of all American workers)

40 percent receive some form of public assistance

72 percent of long term care is finance through public programs (mostly Medicaid and Medicare)

Finally, the demand for caregivers is growing:

60,000 more caregivers will be needed by 2024. It is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States workforce.

1 in 2 caregivers leave the job within 12 months. And more LTC workers are leaving this sector than entering it.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to visit the PHI site where more information like this can be found. Of current interest is the ongoing 60 Caregivers Issues series where they tackle a whole range of issues regarding our work, such as caregiver wages, training, recruitment and retention, and advocacy.

Next week, I’ll share what I think some of these numbers mean for the larger long term care picture.

A Number’s Game: Resident Acuity and Staffing – Part Two

 

 

 

Minstrel 

This is about person-centered care. To repeat: We cannot provide person-centered care without the personnel! CNAs, do the administrators of the LTC homes you work get this? Do they really comprehend what your work day is like? Do they appreciate how much time it takes for you just to assist with ADLs, when a person is showing symptoms of dementia? Do the state regulators? Or are they ‘cognitively impaired’ when it comes to understanding life on a memory care unit. As my uncle used to say when his dementia advanced: “Donna, I hear you but I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Administrators may see things, but do they really understand? A Resident Acuity Assessment tool might help them understand.

A Resident Acuity Assessment tool is a descriptive list of the symptoms of dementia. This list isn’t comprehensive; it can’t be. We’ve all heard this: “If you’ve seen one case of dementia, you’ve seen…one case of dementia.” Everyone is different; each care partner may observe a new symptom. This list isn’t meant to be discouraging for those who, thanks to the support they have, may not show severe symptoms. The better care a person has, the more a person diagnosed with dementia can retain functionality, with fewer and less severe behavioral symptoms. But insofar as residents of LTC homes do experience serious consequences of dementia, those who regulate care homes need to appreciate their needs and regulate accordingly with regard to staffing.

Here is what I think a Resident Acuity Assessment tool might look like.* If you are a CNA working in a memory-care community, or a home care aide, or someone caring for a family member at home, these symptoms of dementia are familiar to you. I’m not sure they’re as familiar as they need to be to those who set long-term care standards. If they were, we would have better staffing.

Part Three, the next chapter in my mission to lobby for better aide-to-resident staffing ratios, will mention other factors that need to be taken into account by administrators and regulators.

RESIDENT ACUITY ASSESSMENT

Key: N = Never = 0      S = Sometimes = 1        F = Frequently = 2        A = Always = 3

** under 60: low to moderate acuity;   61 to 100: moderate to high acuity; over 100: very high acuity.

RESIDENT _________________________ Date Assessed _______ by ________________

*There may already be such a tool, a better one, that I haven’t found. (The tests used to diagnose dementia serve a different purpose.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Numbers Game: Resident Acuity and Staffing – Part One

 

 

Minstrel

This is a story of staffing, substandard staffing in memory care homes. It’s an attempt to offer evidence of what life is like in a memory care home and to document why staffing guidelines are missing the mark, are ignoring the ramifications of residents’ symptoms and CNAs’ workloads. In memory care, the gold standard of care is ‘person-centered care.’ But we cannot provide person-centered care without the personnel! In a hospital setting, administrators use something called a Patient Classification System to plan care. This is a method for determining how serious the medical condition of a patient is, what level of care the patient needs, and how many nurses they must have on duty to ensure that patients get the care they need. The severity of a patient’s medical condition and needs is known as acuity. In long-term care homes this notion of patient or resident acuity doesn’t seem to have the same imperative that it does in hospitals. It should.

We hardly use the term ‘nursing home’ nowadays, it’s almost politically incorrect. We speak of long-term care ‘homes.’ It’s to the credit of the nursing home industry and consumers of that industry that if our loved elders become too frail to remain at home, people want to make their final residence more homelike. Not an institutional, hospital-like environment—with all the sterility and standardization and disregard for individuality that the word ’hospital’ ironically implies. And so we move our family members to long-term care homes: skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, or personal care homes. Still, residents of these homes, whatever we call them, are there because of declining health. They need care. Maybe not the kind of care that calls for physicians, medical specialists, hi-tech equipment and RNs to be on hand on a daily basis. But they do need attention paid to their declining physical and/or cognitive health.

The area of long-term care I’m involved in is dementia care. I challenge everyone reading this page to name one memory-care home that has the staffing it needs to ensure a high level of person-centered care for every resident on every shift, every day. Not perfect care; just consistent high-quality care. (And if you know of such a place, please let us all know about it. I’m signing up for their waiting list!) Long term care homes simply don’t have the staff they need. CMS and state regulators don’t set specific standards that could ensure better care. The sad standards they do establish don’t come with penalties that encourage compliance.

I first became interested in this kind of tool while working in a memory support home. When we CNAs asked for more staff, the Administrator would respond, “Document that you need more help.” I began putting charts together to demonstrate the time CNAs actually had to do ADLs. One reason legislators don’t pay more attention to staffing levels is that they just don’t understand what the symptoms of more serious dementia are and how these symptoms impact aides’ workload throughout the day. A Resident Acuity Assessment tool could, I believe, help us educate administrators, families and legislators about the staffing we need. In Part Two I’ll present one suggestion for a Resident Acuity tool, hoping that other CNAs will find ways to improve it. Use your own tool to persuade your employers and regulators to require improved staffing of memory care homes.

Can I Afford to be a CNA?

 

 

Bob Goddard

A prospective caregiver asked this question in one of the CNA Facebook groups: “What do CNAs start at?”

The first person to reply said this: “If that’s the first thing you want to know about being a caregiver, you don’t belong in this field.”

That reply got several positive responses. After all, CNA work isn’t about making money, right?  It’s all about taking care of people, not your bank account. Right? So take your question elsewhere, you money grubbing sociopath.

Of course, they didn’t actually say those words, but the condescension was certainly there.

This attitude is shared by a small, but vocal minority within the direct care workforce. It’s an attitude that arises from a small-minded, but persistent misconception: expecting reasonable compensation for the work is incompatible with the compassion necessary to do the work. This notion is erroneous and harmful.

Really, take a moment and consider what the young lady was actually asking. I think it was this: “Can I afford to be a CNA?” “Will it pay my bills? Will I be able to support myself and my family? What sacrifices will I have to make? What sacrifices will the people who depend me have to make? Or do I have to go elsewhere in order to better meet my obligations?”

My guess is that she went elsewhere.

“Can I afford to be a CNA?”  This is grown-up talk. It’s about the hard realities and difficult choices people have to make. Asking it has nothing to do with a person’s capacity for caring and compassion. Anywhere else this would be regarded as reasonable and responsible question. But for some in the CNA community, it’s a red flag and those who ask it should be dismissed as morally unfit for caregiving.

I have a question for the caregiver who gave the “you don’t belong in the field” reply – or for anyone who thought that it was a good way to respond: Where is your compassion for that young lady?  Where is your compassion for people who might very well become great caregivers and love the work just as much as you, but are denied the opportunity because they simply wouldn’t be able to make ends meet?

Where is your compassion for caregivers who are single mothers and have to work two jobs or unreasonable amounts of overtime just to feed and clothe their kids? Do you have any compassion for the young children who don’t see enough of their mothers?

We know that wages have a direct impact on attracting and retaining workers. The high turnover rate of caregivers has an appalling effect on the continuity and quality of care in LTC, and makes it almost impossible to keep many of these homes adequately staffed. Where is your compassion for the workers who struggle day after day in these chaotic conditions and unmanageable work situations?

Also, let’s not forget the managers that are forced to hire people they might not necessarily want to hire, because poor wages artificially limits the pool of candidates. And then they – and everyone else in the place – has to tolerate inadequate work performance or absenteeism or tardiness or outright disrespect from these workers because the managers know how difficult it is to replace these caregivers.

Where is your compassion for the families of residents who live in poorly staffed homes?

Finally, where is your compassion for the residents who have to live in these homes? And really, isn’t that the bottom line here?

There are those in positions of authority who are influenced by and even exploit the notion that “good caregivers don’t care about money.”  Make no mistake, when that idea comes from our ranks, they will use it.

4 AM


Corey
It’s four in the morning; that weirdly silent time on a quiet night. In the daylight, with it’s harsh noises and exuberant colors awash by the sun, quietness can be a welcome respite from an over anxious world. In the light, those still, soft moments cushion the edges of life with soft downy thoughts full of possibilities and hope. In the darkness, the mind is different.
The night holds its own haunting beauty. Quiet on top of quiet in the world when most are dreaming. The landscape both in front of me and in my mind is very different in the shadows and at four in the morning, sometimes the shadows have teeth. Sometimes the stillness is lonely and my mind drifts down paths better left alone. And there is really nothing that can be done about it. Attempting to ignore my mind’s ghostly whispers at four in the morning is every bit as effective as telling a curious ten year old to not push a big red button. So I ride it out.
I read somewhere that the sign of a rational mind is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it. I take great peace in that when my traitor brain decides to have a house party with all of my fears and insecurities. I’m just entertaining obnoxious guests for an evening. They damn sure aren’t moving in.
I have an idea! Let’s count all the people you’ve known and loved in recovery and as a caregiver who have died. Let’s not. You are so far behind where you should be in life. Maybe. But I’m not where I was either. Working the graveyard shift is going to give you a fat ass. Just more of me to love. You’re going to fail. Definitely. A lot. Major, epic fails. There is so much I want to do and explore in this life that failure is a statistical certainty. I accept that. I’m okay with it. I’m not afraid of failure because I’ve learned the most from my biggest mistakes. You are too much and not enough at the same time. I don’t even know what that one means…and I realized, as my mind decided to be a total ass for no fathomable reason, that there was nothing it could throw at me that would stick. Even at this hour, underneath the utterly predictable and surface level fear was the deeper awareness that I am comfortable in my own skin and am incredibly happy with every aspect of my life that matters. Mine has not been the smoothest of paths and I have certainly not been the most graceful of hikers, but I like to think I’ve learned from it all. I refuse to spit in the face of my happiest moments by fearing the loss of them.
It may be hard to remember that at 4:00AM, but at 5:00 AM the very best and bravest reminders of this truth begin to wake up and it is no longer quiet on the hall. Once again, it’s time to get to get back to the work that brings such purpose to my life. As dawn broke and the day ended for me as it began for others, I said a silent prayer of thanks that, for now anyway, the night whispers had empowered me with moments of clarity rather than embittered me with self pity and fear and when I clocked out, I did so with a smile and confidence.

In the Wee Small Hours


Corey
Working the graveyard shift on a memory care unit…there really are no adequate words to describe the experience. In many ways, it’s the most challenging experience I’ve ever had in this field. I have twelve residents on my hall and on any given shift there are four to six that won’t sleep. It’s a crapshoot whether it will be an all night dance party full of fun or a nightmarish landscape over which I have little control. Mostly, it’s some combination of the two.
“I think I’m dead.”
“You’re not dead.”
“I might be.”
“ You’re not.”
“Ok. If you say so.”….I have that exchange at least once a week. This particular resident is very matter of fact about the whole idea that she might be a ghost, as if she finally figured out why her life has become so strange and unrecognizable. Death, however final, at least made some sense to her. The disease that has ravaged her mind and slowly robs her of who she once was makes no sense at all. She is still in there, though. Her caustic wit cuts through her mental fog; a beam that lights brief paths to moments of clarity in which who she is underneath the Alzheimer’s disease shines through. She loves music. All kinds of music and she loves to dance. She hates tuna fish. If she doesn’t trust you, she lets you know it. She doesn’t respond well to formality, preferring warmth to surface level pleasantries and when she laughs, it is full throated and from the soul rather than polite titters hidden modestly behind a handkerchief. This is a woman who does not bother with giggles. She laughs like she means it and I love that about her.
Those are the moments that I hold onto when the bad nights come; when my people wander in the darkest hours of the night, confused and afraid. When she is having a difficult night, she doesn’t sleep.
“I’m frightened!”, she tells me. Eight hours straight of I’m frightened. And when I’m on a round and out of her sight that fright turns to panic until I am finished helping another resident and she can lay eyes on me again. The best I can do to help her through those nights is to continuously remind her of who she is; that she hates tuna fish and loves music and loves to dance. That helps some, for a little while…but I have eleven other residents who also need me and when three or four of them are having a difficult night at the same time I feel like I’m drowning in my own powerlessness. I can’t cure dementia. I can’t bring back dead mothers or lost dogs from their childhood. In the light of day, with the activity and structure of the daily routines, redirecting is much easier. At three in the morning, it is much more difficult to escape the ghosts of the mind. That’s true for me, so I can’t imagine how hard it is for them.
When I first started on this hall, those shifts were so emotionally exhausting that by the time I punched out, I was feeling something very close to despair. I do not do despair very well. I haven’t for a very long time. Despair leads to giving up and that is quite simply not an option. Besides, those were only the shifts when it seemed that everyone was having a bad night at once and as painful as they were for me, it was exponentially worse for those in my care who were actually living through it.
So much of this field is trial and error. I decided to go back to my basics; ideas and tools I learned years ago when I worked in memory care on first shift. The hours are different and as are the mental state of those in my care but certain truths transcend from day to night. Consistency is always vital in memory care. If I say I’m going to do something, I follow through. I learned my residents, their patterns and preferences and the best night time bathroom times for each one individually and developed my routine. I keep it consistent but flexible. I work around them. If a lot of my folks are restless, I have a midnight snack party and play calming music. My night owls like Law and Order. It’s funny…the can’t follow the show but they seem to remember enjoying it and that’s enough. All of this has helped a great deal.
Of course there are still really tough shifts when events seem to snowball, but they are less frequent and I am better able to deal with them. One of my favorite aspects of my work is that in order to be most effective, I have to learn continuously. Anyone who says differently isn’t doing it right. I have been blessed with the support of those who love me most, both in and out of the field. It is impossible to give up when surrounded by people who believe in you. I walk in the footsteps of those caregivers who trudged the path before me and passed on what they know. At the end of the day, good or bad shift, daylight or in the still of the night, I love what we do. I love writing about what we do. I love that I see the value in what we do and I love those in our care for whom we do it.

Lost in Translation

 

Corey

Where is my mother? Father? Brother? Husband? When these questions come from my residents at three in the morning, I have to do an on the spot assessment. If not handled correctly, these conversations can quickly spiral into an emotional meltdown that unnecessarily traumatize those living with memory disorders.

Too many people, from the doctors to new caregivers, make the rookie mistake of attempting to pull those living with dementia into their level of awareness rather than meeting them where they are. Instead of trying to convince those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia of our reality, it is better to actively listen through the words they say to assess the resident’s needs.

When I hear “where’s my mother,” I think about what my resident’s mother might have provided her that she may be missing in that particular moment and attempt to fill that need as best I can. It is not 100% effective but it has worked better than any other method I’ve utilized so far in this field. Where’s my mother at three in the morning could mean any number of things. Did she have a nightmare and need reassurance? Did she wake up hungry? Does she need to use the bathroom? Is she in discomfort? All of these basic needs were once taken care of by her mother and in recognizing that, I am usually able to put her at ease and through the process of elimination, discover and solve the problem my resident could not articulate.

Have you ever been anxious or frustrated or simply in a funk for no specific reason? Maybe you didn’t even realize you were feeling down until someone said or did something that pulled you from it? It’s happened to me plenty of times and it’s a strange feeling when my emotions don’t match with my reality. Imagine walking through that with severe cognitive impairment, when your reality is just as fluid as your emotions. It would terrify me if someone attempted to convince me that what I know in my mind to be true isn’t real. I would be too scared and frustrated to comply with even the simplest of suggestions. Part of caregiving is learning how to translate. There is a language and understanding that can only be developed by active listening, keen observation skills and empathy. It up to us to first understand that language and then translate it for those who don’t know those in our care as well as we do. It is how we make certain our residents do not get lost in translation.

Problem Solver

 

 

Bob Goddard

Okay, so back to the Claire Chronicles. It’s been two months since I reported anything on her progress. So this will serve as an update. Actually, more like a battle report.

At 18 months, Claire is still not crawling. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t developing. She is more mobile than ever, her primary method is rolling. And she’s fast. Turn around for five seconds and she’s across the room attacking the cat or reaching for some forbidden object such as the TV remote. Or something ridiculous, like the Christmas tree. It’s as if she has no real plan.

While Claire is very visual, exploring the world around her by looking at things, this is often supplemented by the sense of taste, everything she grabs goes in her mouth. Including the cat’s tail and the TV remote. And thus I’ve become more mobile than ever too. I often find myself bounding across the living room over the field of scattered toys she’s left behind for greater adventure elsewhere: “NOOOO…. NOT THE DOG’S WATER DISH…”

This impulse to move is powerful in humans. If we can’t do it one way, we’ll find another. It’s just a matter of figuring out how. This brings up another of Claire’s developmental advances: problem solving. She’s become quite the solver of problems. And this creates problems for me to solve.

In our effort to get Claire to crawl, we’re trying different ways to trigger the reciprocal, across the body coordination (left arm working with right leg and vice-versa) necessary for that form of mobility. Because of her ACC, this does not come naturally for Claire. So, we place her on her belly on the floor and then put things that she wants in front of her, just out of reach hoping that’ll entice her to move the necessary body parts to retrieve the item. I use what I consider the ideal bait: Cheerios.

Claire loves Cheerios. And for good reason, they’re wonderful in so many ways. They’re particularly good for use as reinforcement or just straight-up incentive. I tried using toys for reinforcement of desired behavior, but there is a built-in cruelty to that: you have to take the toy away in order to move on to the next step. A Cheerio is immediately and happily consumed, leaving the consumer looking for more.

I start by handing Claire a single Cheerio in the “first one’s free, kid” tradition. This primes the pump. Taking tiny bits or sips of anything that tastes good stimulates the taste buds in a way stuffing your mouth can’t. Thus we go into the exercise in a heightened state of expectation and motivation.

I have to be careful. She’s been known to lunge herself over the hand offering the first free Cheerio to the mother lode in my other hand just beyond it. I’ve learned to keep all additional Cheerio reinforcements in the big yellow box until I’m ready to deploy them.

Anyway, this is what happened in my first attempt with the Cheerio Just Out of Reach technique to get Claire to crawl:

 

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear me say “Oh, my goodness…” What I was actually thinking was “Oh, you little shit…” In endearment and admiration, of course. I try not to use bad language around the children, even though it’s sometimes difficult to refrain.

So, I said “damn the bacteria” and I placed the Cheerio directly on the carpeted floor, 18 inches or so out of reach. Fool-proof plan, I thought. Until, in one seamless motion, the little shit rolls in a 180 degree semi-circle and snatches the Cheerio with her little hand like a frog flicking a fly from mid-air. It was over and the Cheerio was in her mouth before I knew what was happening.

Of course, she wanted more. I just reached in the big yellow box and tossed her a bunch all at once.

There, problem solved.

Well Bully for You


Corey
I wanted to write about memory care. I really did, about how it feels to come full circle and how much I love the challenge of constantly adapting but that post is going to have to wait. As much as I would LIKE to write about my new job assignment, I feel COMPELLED to tackle a different topic: bullying. On the surface, it seems a simple enough problem to discuss. Don’t be a jerk. ‘Nough said…except that as with so many other issues, bullying is a deeply rooted systemic problem that will never be solved without an open and honest examination of how and what it truly means.
Most work places have a zero tolerance policy for physical conflict. That’s a pretty low baseline. I’ve never actually met anyone who showed up for work one day and randomly started punching people, so as far as I can tell that is a cover your ass policy that does little to nothing to curb the problem. If things have gotten so bad that there has to be a no punching rule then somebody has dropped the ball somewhere.
Did you hear?…Well, First shift…If second shift…the new girl…How many conversations start like that? It catches faster than a forest fire and suddenly everyone is angry over something they heard second or third hand. Everyone gets in on the action, morale goes down, quality of care goes down, communication becomes petty and useless and I feel like I’m in fifth grade again. It’s ridiculous and I am over it.
It’s modeled behavior. Supervisors act as if they are confused as to why there is chaos on the floor. It’s baffling. Of course there is dysfunction on the floor because there’s dysfunction in the office. I have yet to work in a facility where I didn’t know exactly how the supervisors felt about each other; where I didn’t know which caregivers were favored on which shift. It’s impossible not to hear the claptrap. This along with an inconsistent application of consequences inevitably causes resentments. If management doesn’t hold themselves to a higher standard, why would they expect it from those who work under them?
It’s not just caregivers that are on the receiving end either. New supervisors come in and before they even have time to adjust, a collective snap judgement is formed by the members of management who have been there longer. Suddenly everyone from the office down is berating the new kid on the block. I have to wonder, for all the criticism regularly heaped on new people, how many senior employees have reached out their hand? How many have said, “Man, I know how tough it is to be new. I remember when I first started. I know how overwhelming it can be. If I can help you or you have any questions, just let me know”? Now THAT would be a refreshing show of true leadership. Sadly, it’s much easier to bitch about a person than it is to solve a problem.
It’s rampant in the online CNA support groups too. The helpful posts and genuine questions are often buried under posts that take unnecessary digs at other people. This co-worker is lazy. That co-worker calls out. So much of it is catty, as if one can’t feel good about themselves without putting another down. It maddening and ugly and I don’t understand the point. Unless a resident is being put in harm’s way, there are better ways to solve the day to day troubles of working with others than to engage in pettiness. Those in our care handle living with cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, and mental illness better than some caregivers handle having to stay five minutes over or putting a trash bag in a trash can; better than some supervisors handle sharing an office. It’s a little pathetic.
The truth is, I’ve never had a problem with those from other shifts who work my hall. I do my best and respect my co-workers and in return they seem to be just fine with me. Our halls run smoother because of it and those in our care get the attention and energy that would be wasted on engaging in drama. For the most part, when I put good out I get good back and I trust my own experiences rather than the gossip that runs rampant.
Be it in the workplace or out, bullying has become an epidemic that rots the best and empowers the worst of the human experience.
It is the worst kind of groupthink and it scares me how normalized it has become in now. When did it become socially acceptable to rip another person to shreds simply for disagreeing with you. A single person behaving in such a way may hurt another’s feelings, but when it becomes groups of people tearing others down, real damage is done. It is leading us down a dangerous road at breakneck speed.
We who work in Long Term Care exist in a microcosm of the outside world. Because of this we have the ability to see the damage that collective bullying is doing on a small and intimate scale within the walls of facilities. In this world, we can do something about it. We can be helpful instead of hurtful. We can lift each other up instead of knock each other around. We can speak up, even when it’s hard, even when it is to those in charge. We can choose not to engage in toxic behavior. In doing so, we will be happier, our residents will be calmer and our co-workers will have a window into better ways of handling conflict. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn these lessons on the job and use them off the clock. We can be an example for others. After all, chaos and negativity may be contagious but so is positivity and hope. The choice is ours.