Caregivers Lift Heavy Loads and Deserve Our Support

People on the front lines of healthcare – the certified nursing assistants, home health workers, therapists, chaplains and other long-term care staff – have intense jobs.  They deal with disability, discomfort, depression, death and dying every day.  For fifteen, years, we have used arts engagement as a catalyst for supporting these staff, by engaging with dependent and frail, older adults through the arts.

This video captures some of the joy that the arts (in this case, music), can bring to these individuals and to those who care for them.  As you can see, staff are rewarded and experience some of the same joy as those in their care.  Most health workers care deeply about their jobs and are there because they love people and want to help.  But the sad reality is that on the job stress is very high and burnout and turnover rates are even higher.

This 2004 Leading Age report on the costs of turnover in long-term care is by the numbers, and this PhD dissertation asserts that CNAs provide 90% of the direct care in long-term care facilities.    This 2005 PubMed article shares that RN and LPN average annual turnover rates are above 50%, and this article shares that home care worker annual average turnover topped 60% in 2014.  Finally, this 2006 article in The Gerontologist about the reasons behind the turnover shares that “the results consistently show that, for all caregivers, lower staffing levels, lower quality, for-profit ownership, and higher bed size are associated with higher turnover.”

The reasons behind staff turnover should not be surprising.  What is surprising, and alarming, is that we accept this level of care for our old and infirm.  They are dependent upon those who care for them.  They bear the brunt of our healthcare system in crisis.  They are not the ones who can make a fuss or raise flags when care is poor, very poor, or even abominable.  They can’t risk ‘rocking the boat,’ because so much of their comfort, peace of mind, health and well-being depend upon the good graces of those caregivers.

These are big problems with no easy fixes.  We are doing what we can for caregivers in Hampton Roads, through offering access to our monthly outreach programs in congregate care facilities and other locations, and by offering online resources on our site and local caregiver training courses in the arts.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting our course “The Arts and Person-Centered Care” at Home Instead Senior Care and at Kempsville Health & Rehab, to 80+ staff and care workers.  Many came on their own dime and time, eager to gain more knowledge in their field.  It is no small wonder that more on-the-job training is needed – CNAs can test for certification after as little as 120 hours of coursework.  Home care companies and long-term care companies do what they can to offer continuing education, but administrators tell me it is a constant challenge.

Our caregiver training courses are unique in that they inspire, inform and empower frontline health care workers to use the arts and their own creative gifts and preferences in their workplace.  As one administrator put it, “the arts heal the mind, the body and the soul in ways our medications cannot match.”  They also afford the carer some respite, inspiration, insight into their clients…and much more.

We hope to create and present many more courses and sessions, involving local artists, gerontologists, therapists and other health professionals.  But as we have learned over fifteen years of hard, diligent and persistent effort, these efforts have costs associated.  They are so worth it!  To find out how you can support this work, please read this letter.  As always, thank you for your interest and support.