Nursing homes provide a critical and essential human service
Running a nursing home in normal years is a balancing act between the satisfaction of seeing our residents laugh and smile and ensuring that we provide them with the best care possible that enhances their quality of life. There are about 20 nursing homes in the Seacoast region that provide essential services to our communities so families can remain close to loved ones. We take pride in our work, care deeply about the health and well-being of our residents and go above and beyond on a daily basis to ensure that safety and quality of life are always top priorities.
As the owner of the Edgewood Center since 1985, I have seen many changes and improvements in nursing home care and services over 35 years. However, these cumulative advancements pale in comparison to the dramatic shifts we’ve seen since March 2020 due to COVID-19.
That month, we had to close our doors to visitors and our residents could no longer see their families and loved ones in our facilities. They could not see the smiling faces of staff behind their masks or share meals and common spaces with fellow residents due to health concerns. Recruiting staff – which was a challenge prior to the pandemic – became that much harder due to perceived safety concerns and other demands that required prospective employees to stay home or deterred them from joining the workforce. Yet, as essential, front-line healthcare workers, we came in every day and worked harder and longer knowing that the people we deeply care for needed our care, 24/7.
NH nursing homes in 2020: three lessons learned
Reflecting back and thinking ahead, there certainly have been some lessons learned by NH nursing homes in 2020 that our profession will have to consider for the future. Here are three.
1. Safety continues to be on everyone’s mind
As the second most regulated industry in the country, nursing homes constantly provide reports, go through audits and adhere to stringent processes designed to help ensure health and safety for a frail population. New guidelines include the use of protective personal equipment, enhanced sanitation, ventilation, quarantining and strict infection control practices were quickly implemented. We expect several of the changes to become permanent safety measures within our facilities as we work on helping make them as safe as possible for our current and future residents.
And rest assured, nursing homes are working hard to remain safe places to work in New Hampshire. Across the state, we have had substantially fewer cases and lost fewer lives in our nursing home population per capita than the national average, demonstrating that our nursing homes are safe for our residents and for our staff.
2. The constant need for nursing home staff continues to increase
Nursing homes are in constant need of additional staff and that need has increased in 2020. Working in a nursing home is both challenging and immensely satisfying for those who are attracted to caregiving roles. It is a recession-proof career that is not impacted by downturns – or certainly – pandemics. However, a recent article highlighted the fact that to date, there has been a net loss in licensed LNAs across New Hampshire in 2020 and these positions are going unfilled for numerous reasons.
3. There’s nothing like an in-person connection
Technology is wonderful and has helped bring families together virtually, but it is not a replacement for in-person connections. Like most nursing homes, we have become Zoom experts to help our residents stay connected with families. We have also had hundreds of “window visits” where families can actually see their loved ones. Along with outside visits, however, the Northern New England weather will curtail those shortly. Therefore, we have dedicated two-family visitation rooms so that we can safely host inside visits.