August 3, 2020
by Kadine Mitchell, CDAL
In senior living, crisis management is familiar territory for many leaders and executive directors. Many of us have experienced various levels of risk management, from hazardous weather conditions to mechanical failures.
However, I guarantee we can all say that managing through a global pandemic is a first. It is uncharted territory; time is proving that we will be proactively and reactively managing COVID-19 for some time to come.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it is best to maintain as much of a sense of operational normalcy as the community setting will allow. The way in which your team responds to a crisis will likely mimic its leader’s response. If that response is heightened, full of angst? A similar feeling is likely to permeate the community. After the initial few weeks, our goal was to return to “business as usual” to maintain compliance with quality and operational standards.
Communication is key; this is a time where there is no such descriptor as over-communicating. While all communication is critical—to associates, residents, loved ones, and external stakeholders—the communication to those working with us is top priority. Left to fill in their own blanks, associates will begin to insert assumptions—largely inaccurate ones—and reactions can verge on hysteria.
Make it easy to share concerns
All communications should begin with this preemptive measure: The following is subject, and likely, to change. As the community leader, you are responsible for ensuring your entire team has the most up-to-date information. Each of us must be well informed and not afraid to ask clarifying questions. Policies, best practices, and protocols have been in constant revision since the onset of COVID-19—and will continue to be so, as we enter a “new normal.”
Allow your team members to freely express themselves, sharing their fears and concerns related to both the professional and personal realms. In fact, this is an instance where the two should not be separated, as each is greatly affected by the same external factor: COVID-19.
Many of our team members—including me—had to quickly adjust to children no longer being able to safely attend school or childcare. I encouraged one-on-one meetings instead of group ones as much as possible, to facilitate solutions to unique circumstances. The first question—and frankly the most important one—is how are you and how is home?
Don’t forget yourself
Leaders often place themselves last in the order of consideration and care. I was grateful for my organization’s constant reminders that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We were encouraged to use our earned time off as a means to recharge and refuel.
These are some of the most stressful times we will ever endure in our professional careers—it’s important to find ways to de-stress. Over the course of the last few weeks I have rediscovered my favorite pastimes: riding my beach cruiser bicycle, enjoying puzzles, and learning how to crochet.
I am also practicing mindfulness and continually evaluating my mental health. Many organizations offer a formal employee assistance program that includes counseling sessions available at no additional expense to their associates.
Finally, express gratitude to your team as often as possible. Go beyond telling them you care; show them you care. And get creative! Recently, I gifted my director team with superhero socks, along with personal notes of thanks. We captured the moment with a fun photoshoot!
We need every member of our team to be present during times like these to care for our residents, and we want them to know we could not do this without them. If we show appreciation, our teams will respond with commitment that goes above and beyond—serving as health care heroes and warriors.