COVID-19: Navigating the Pandemic

Lisa O'Neill
May 13, 2020
Sailing Boat Yacht in Rough Seas

Understanding staff needs and emotions during a pandemic is an important piece of the puzzle of navigating the pandemic.

Team Members

Recognize that there are team members who have logistical challenges outside of work; young children who are home due to school closures, providing care for a loved one at home, a partner who has lost their job due to the pandemic. There are endless challenges during this time and providing a support system for these team members is critical. This may be the time to incorporate daily reminders to remain calm, posting positive, motivational words of encouragement at the time clock, in the break room, etc. It is also important to be compassionate, encouraging them to talk about their concerns and emotions, be a good listener. Remember, everyone reacts to stress differently, and encouraging team members to go above and beyond by helping someone else through a challenging time is a great team builder! Remember, everyone is feeling stress whether at home and/or at work so find ways to ease that burden and support your team.

It is important that staff remain calm and go about their daily routines, however, there may be times when they need to vent their frustrations, discuss their fears and/or sadness. This is where, as a leader, you need to provide them with resources, someone to talk. Have a private area/safe spot in the center, to protect the privacy of the team member needing support.

Train your staff on how to manage challenging conversations by providing different ways to diffuse difficult situations. Explain to them that when people are experiencing stress they may need an outlet – someone to hear them and empathize with them.  Work with your team to ensure they are prepared to have discussions with families. Also, consider providing training on to respond promptly and confidently to questions residents may have such as: “I am positive with COVID, does that mean I am going to die?” Any hesitation can result in panic, but if the staff member responds promptly with a comfortable statement such as “a lot of people are sick right now”, it may calm the resident and ease their minds.


Keep families updated and build partnerships with them. During this time of social isolation/social distancing, it can be challenging to juggle the number of family notifications and communications. Bottom-line, develop a communication plan. Determine what that will look like; an email blast with everyone’s email in the bcc line – weekly announcements/updates, personal phone calls weekly, etc. Keeping the families updated seems like a no brainer, but as the pandemic unfolds, it is something that is easy to slip through the cracks…that old saying….out of sight out of mind! Not true for our families! When we say they can no longer visit their loved one, we also need to provide them with a plan for other options such as window visits, skype, facetime, etc. Ask the families to assist in keeping their loved one engaged; some centers have families send care packages with silly games, dress-up clothes, decorations for an evening in, movie night supplies and so much more! This gives the residents something to look forward to and something different every day! Another option is to have staff members write messages of encouragement on postcards and “deliver mail” to each resident weekly. That way everyone is included, even those without family.


Provide a safe environment where staff can receive training on the current status of the pandemic. Encourage them to ask questions in writing or privately as they may be embarrassed to ask during group training. Allow adequate training time to have staff demonstrate competency in new skills. This is also a great time to coach your team on how to respond to questions from families and/or provide canned responses. Consider including an opportunity to “role play” and get people up out of their chairs, engaged in the training.

Lastly, keep in mind that once the pandemic “flattens” doesn’t mean that it is “over”. There will be residents, staff, and families who may experience post-traumatic stress related to the loss of a loved one, inability to provide for their families, etc. Remember the number of deaths that were shown on the news channels, the horrific scenes of people crying, rioting/protesting, and in some cases looting businesses that were forced to close during the pandemic. Encourage staff to avoid having news channels on television/radio all day and instead engage residents in various activities using music and movement!

It isn’t over, we are probably a long way off, but we are together, we are prepared and we are ready to take on the world. Bring your team together, support each other and we will get through this, together!

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