The longevity of care providers in home care is a priority concern for those who manage home care services.  Whether you are an agency, a hospital home care business unit or a nonprofit that extends home care to vulnerable seniors, keeping the valueable staff that you recruit is at least one-half of the staffing equation.  While you may have started your role as a manager or franchise owner, it didn’t take long to understand the level of support that care givers themselves require.

Care Providers on the Front Lines

It’s called compassion fatigue.  And it can happen to the home care providers and to managers too.  Since every care provider provides direct care to someone who is experiencing some degree of suffering resulting from reduced physical or mental capacity, they are truly on the front lines.  Care giver services are often called for when family members have already exhausted their ability to care for a loved one.  That means that the care from the very beginning of service delivery is challenging – and that can take an emotional toll on the care provider.

When researchers look at how compassion fatigue develops and methods for reducing it’s impact, they see it through three specific lenses:

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)

This is the emotional stress that occurs when an individual is on the recieving end of sharing about the trauma experiences of the care recipient.  This can include stories about medical problems, hospital stays, grief from loss of loved ones.  When it becomes severe, it can mimic the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cumulative Burnout (BO) or Cumulative Stress

This can be common among people who work in chronically stressful situations. It is caused when a number of stress factors collide, such as heavy workload, poor communications, work or home frustrations, dealing with situations where the person feels powerless, and an inability to rest or relax.  Many care providers not only provide care during work, but when they go home.  If the working environment is difficult, and agency support and communication is lacking, this can add to the personal frustrations that low wage earners already experience in trying to make ends meet including child care, healthcare, and transportation.  Poor nutritition and a lack of rest can also contribute.

Compassion Satisfaction (CS)

Compasion satisfaction is the reward that care providers receive intrinsically as they help others. It is the sense of accomplishment they receive when they feel they are able to make a positive difference in the world. CS is a powerful counterbalance to Compassion Fatigue.

Watching for Major Stressors

While many of the stresses on the in home care provider are not acute, like those of a nurse or emergency worker, the long term exposure can produce many of the same affects.  Traumatic events that do occur during or around the in home care setting should trigger additional supports for care givers that are involved.  The loss of a patient due to death or hospitilization can have big impacts on the emotional and mental health of care providers.

Like work stressors, home stressors can also create big impacts on care providers.  Awareness of the struggles and frustrations of the care giver at home can prompt additional encouragement or identification of resources that can reduce frustration.

Explore New Recruiting Methods for Greater Retention

Resources to Combat Compassion Fatigue

Recent research measuring different methods of supporting care providers identify lots of things that don’t work, and a few methods that are effective.  In general terms, efforts to support resilence in the personal lives and abilities of care providers have been shown to be most effective.  Resilence is what gives people the psychological strength to deal with stress and difficulty. It is the mental, emotional and relationship reservoir of strengths that people reach into when work or life becomes difficult.

Three Practical Ways to Help

Research completed by the National Institutes of Health identify three practical ways that care agencies can support the development of resilient care providers.

  1. When home care agencies teach and support self-care and personal revitalization, it can go a long way toward developing more resilient care providers.  Some of this comes from the organizational culture itself – when self care is modeled and supported in the work life.  The attention that managers pay to this part of the work life is often caught as much as it is taught.
  2. Fostering a culture of connection and support is another way that in home care organizations can strengthen resiliency.  This can be supported both in the routines of meeting and connecting with workers and the ways that workers connect with each other.
  3. Teaching staff intentionality and self regulation, the process of reducing stress by shifting from reactive emotional responses to more intentional behavior.  This is the skill of intentionally reducing the nervous or anxious responses by replacing them with purposeful thinking and acting.