Even in the worst work environments caregivers have the opportunity to make an immediate and positive impact on how residents experience life in long-term care. So much of what our elders experience depends upon the quality of the interactions we have with them. Whatever our difficulties, we are ultimately responsible for the manner in which we approach and respond to our residents. At the same time, how we conduct ourselves as caregivers has significance that can go beyond our ability to impact the immediate environment.
Caregiving is a practical art. Our role involves us in the details of the daily routines of our residents, but not necessarily in the larger issues of Long Term Care. While we are profoundly affected by things like poor staffing ratios, direct care staff turnover and disconnected management, the conventional wisdom among caregivers is that we simply don’t have the authority to do much about those things and the only option we really have is accept things as they are or find a different place – or field – to work.
Meanwhile, we leave the larger problems to those who we believe have the real power: the administrators, regulators, legislators and assorted LTC professionals. However, no one has greater awareness than direct care workers of how chronic understaffing and turnover rates actually impact the care and well-being of individual residents on a day to day basis. We know what it looks like and we know what it feels like to our residents in a very real way. We can give these problems texture and a real sense of the human cost. Our experience in the trenches of Long Term Care provides us with a unique perspective, a perspective that is very much needed if Long Term Care is ever to truly come to grips with its problems.
While caregivers lack formal authority, we can still influence those who do have formal authority. Our real world experience gives us something valuable to say. Our capacity to convince others that what we have to say is valid depends on our moral authority. But if we are not doing everything we can as caregivers to improve the immediate environment of our residents, then why should anyone listen to us about the bigger problems? By taking responsibility for our own behavior and conducting ourselves according to what we know by reason is right – in spite of difficult circumstances – we provide the basis for our moral authority.
And with that, we cannot be ignored.