The pandemic has changed life for everyone, but some of those most affected are people who require skilled nursing care around the clock. Those living in long term care facilities or nursing homes are some of the most susceptible to COVID, given age and underlying health conditions. With worry and concern, we have watched news reports from every state in the nation reporting COVID spreading through such populations like wildfire.
I have been a nursing home chaplain for over 20 years and have always been grateful for the stories of resiliency I have heard and observed firsthand. Watching our staff caring for residents with COVID, I recently saw examples of staying grounded in an acute crisis that I would like to share with you.
First, acute crisis shifts everything. The whole system moves into triage mode answering the question: What is the next most important thing we have to do? We had leaders who mapped out how to keep our residents safe, both residents who had COVID on a COVID care unit and those who were COVID negative on a different unit. Who needed to move locations in the building? Were the rooms clean? Were the rooms available? If not, where would we move those who were already there? Honestly, I was reminded of math story problems from high school that often involved a “train leaving the station.”
The first lesson was this: Having a plan helps the team stay grounded in the storm.
Sure, there was some confusion about which room was ready and where we were in the list of moves, but we were able to respond quickly to the situation because our leaders provided a focus. And they kept us up to date about where we were in the process of moving residents. When we were becoming inefficient, losing momentum because we weren’t clear on who had done what, we would huddle and regroup.
The second lesson was this: Meaning and purpose get us through.
An all-hands-on-deck effort was launched, and we worked long hours in full PPE into the night and on the weekends. It was hard physical work and emotionally taxing. But we did it together. At some point I realized that even though my feet hurt and I was hangry, I had a deep sense of purpose. This was the best thing I could be doing in the moment. It was exactly where God had called me to be. I looked at us—housekeepers, nursing assistants, front desk receptionists, and the chaplain in addition to nursing assistants—all working together for a purpose greater than ourselves. Connection is often built with others tackling a common struggle. We were united in mission, God’s mission, and that is what got us through.
The third lesson: A little laughter puts fuel in the tank.
Laughter is good for us. There is amazing research about the healing, bonding power of healthy laughter. Laughter was our fuel as we helped residents move. We were focused and efficient, yet found little things to give us feel-good fuel. Some residents made jokes about our driving abilities with their beds. Staff encouraged each other, teasing about who had the best N-95, face shield, or hair.
While, there are several more resilience lessons that I saw on the COVID unit, these provide a good starting place. In crisis 1) a plan gives us focus, 2) connecting to meaning and purpose keeps us going and 3) holding all things lightly helps us stay grounded. When we are grounded we have more to give.