Caring for Staff During COVID-19

By Michelle Sanchez, MSN, RN May 26, 2020

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Nurses are often thanked ‒ and even more often during times of crisis.

Nurses are often thanked ‒ and even more often during times of crisis. Currently, you and your staff may be working in a capacity that’s different than your usual roles, and you are likely exhausted from the demands placed on you. However, as a nurse leader, the support and recognition you give your staff can lift their spirits and boost morale.

Recently, I connected with Cindy Little, a nurse manager for the ICU and Rapid Response Team at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on this very topic. The more we talked, the more I realized her experiences during the COVID-19 crisis could benefit our community of nurses. This blog is devoted to sharing her experiences to spark your own thinking.

Fostering Self-Care

Cindy’s commitment to supporting her staff includes providing them with time and tools to ensure their well-being. Some of her recent activities include:

  • Creating a “Lavender Room.” Cindy borrowed an unoccupied family conference room, adding a diffuser, soothing music and healthy snacks. Phones are left with others while staff members enjoy time in the room.
  • Bringing in hospital-affiliated athletic trainers to teach stretching and meditation exercises.
  • Implementing “water rounds” at 0200 and 1400 to ensure hydration.
  • Sharing inspirational messages individually and on all correspondence.

Encouraging Joy at Work (and Celebrating Wins!)

Cindy understands the importance of encouraging joy in the workplace, particularly for nurses. She cites the study Joy in Work and Reducing Nurse Burnout: From Triple Aim to Quadruple Aim. Here are some ways she encourages joy and expresses gratitude:

  • Asking everyone to sing while washing their hands for 20 seconds (this caused lots of laughs!).
  • Assuring her team that they matter and recognizing them for “doing what you do, every day, no matter what unknowns await you.”
  • Celebrating all wins is key! Some examples: posting a daily count of patients coming off vents and being discharged home; encouraging team cheering and dancing when patients who were COVID-positive retest as negative or come off ECMO.
  • Pausing to soak in the outpouring of community support, which has included food deliveries (the team jokes that “COVID-19 is the 19 pounds we will gain from all the food!”), parades from first responders, and signs thanking nurses that placed around neighboring streets.

Supporting Each Other

During this pandemic, healthcare professionals are coming together like never before. Cindy shared the following examples:

  • “Helping hands” ‒ RNs from other departments and CRNAs cleaned, organized and extracted data for a project.
  • The team shared stories about their different patient populations, as well as what they learned from those stories.
  • Experienced staff observed the communication skills of younger nurses, who discussed the intricate details of treatments and EOL plans with family members on the phone.
  • Peceptors collaborated with ICUs to develop creative approaches to orienting new staff, such as switching out nurses between units so new hires get a full orientation experience.
  • Rounding with all staff has provided an outlet for discussing feelings, fears and plans for the future.

Looking to the Future

Cindy knows her team looks forward to celebrating when the time is right. To prepare for that moment, she is observing, listening and soliciting input from her staff to better understand what meaningful recognition looks like for them. Here, she shares a few of her feedback techniques.

  • During rounding, huddles and staff meetings, she ensures all individual requests and ideas are noted and presented to the director of nursing and other leaders. Cindy then reports back with results.
  • She developed a form asking her staff, “What would a celebration of getting through this COVID-19 surge look like?” So far, answers have ranged from “just give the money to employees” to “a three-day weekend on a tropical island.”
  • One of the most inspiring suggestions was hearing, “We are all going to get our CCRN certification; let’s have a goal of 100% CCRN for our unit.”

My conversation with Cindy reminded me that meaningful recognition is part of a healthy work environment at all times, not just during disasters and crises. Ensuring that the recognition you provide to your staff is both meaningful and valued is what makes it special for them, and for you.

What does meaningful recognition look like on your unit right now?