Healthcare worker with head in hands

After three years of working amid a global pandemic, healthcare workers, including those working in the home care, home health and hospice industries, are burnt out and experiencing continuing anxiety in their jobs and at home. 

“The pandemic has really done a number on our stress and our ability to take care of our own families, much less anybody else,” said Amy Garlett-Smith, a social worker who spent 23 years working in social work for hospitals, home health and hospice before joining home health technology firm Axxess last year as a product analyst. 

Headshot of Amy Smith
Amy Garlett-Smith

This ongoing stress these days can sometimes overwhelm workers when it comes to managing the everyday challenges of working in the home care and home health fields. Frustrating situations such as a patient’s noncompliance or a difficult interaction with a patient’s family can leave caregivers tempted to respond with anger.

“The thing about anger is that it’s often a part of grief, so whether it’s that they can’t fix a patient or that a patient is declining, sometimes that anger comes out because we can’t do anything to make them better,” Garlett-Smith said. 

Home care workers and self-care 

In situations like this, it’s important to take some deep breaths, maintain professional boundaries and lean in to the patients’ and families needs in a kind, but firm way. Most importantly, these challenges highlight the need for caregivers to prioritize their own self-care to ensure they can provide the best care for others.

That means taking a look at eating and sleeping habits, which are often the first to be affected when we’re under stress, Garlett-Smith said. Big changes in these two areas could indicate the need for a break, or finding mental health support from co-workers, supervisors or even a professional. Finding something that brings you joy can also be an important part of self-care, as can finding a healthy way to release that anger.

“Sometimes when I’ve had a bad day, I put my tennis shoes on and take a walk,”’ she said. “Finding a way to physically get that energy out is huge.” If the anger is a result of grief — over a loved one, a personal situation or even the death or decline of a favorite patient — don’t ignore the time it can take to heal.

“Taking time to grieve and be able to take care of yourself as a caregiver is huge, because if you don’t take that time to take care of yourself, how do you take care of the next patient that comes along?” Garlett-Smith said.

Employers can help stress level

From an organizational perspective, employers can also play a role in helping workers dedicate time to self-care. 

“Especially in home care, since we’re not getting together often as an organization, administrators need to take time to check in on employees one-on-one,” she said. She encouraged agencies to create opportunities for teamwork and playing together, either by hosting breakfast in the office once a month, getting everyone together on a Zoom call or even going out for happy hour. “You have to do things to put the team back together, because everyone is so incredibly isolated right now, and I think that is only adding to the anger and stress of our staff.”

She also suggested making it a point to provide ongoing education and mental health resources for staff around secondary stress, and what the pandemic has done to all of us.

“Anxiety and depression are on the rise and they’re not going down,” Garlett-Smith said. “Nobody is immune to it.”

Editor’s note: Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Liza Berger at [email protected].