Avoiding Hospice Caregiver Burnout

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Working as a professional caregiver in a hospice, at whatever level of care, or other palliative care setting can be stressful. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hospice News offered that “More than 62% of hospice and palliative care clinicians have suffered from burnout... As hospices contend with widespread staff shortages across all disciplines, staff burnout threatens to increase turnover and cause some staff to leave the industry altogether.”

What Contributes to Hospice Caregiver Burnout and Its Results
The same source tells us that some of the contributing factors to burnout for the care setting include “emotional exhaustion, working longer hours, being younger than 50-years-old, and working weekends.” Also, smaller hospice organizations that depend more on their limited staff experience even higher levels of burnout, which can lead to employee “fatigue, depression, social withdrawal, insomnia, increased vulnerability to illness, and increased risk of substance abuse, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, interpersonal conflict and suicide.” The greater risk is that “An employee experiencing burnout is also more likely to make mistakes and less likely to realize that an error has occurred. This can endanger patients and staff and have a negative impact on the quality of care the organization provides.”

COVID-19 Exacerbates the Impact and Likelihood of Caregiver Burnout in Hospices
The COVID-19 pandemic has made some of the problems inherent to the U.S. healthcare system even worse, including in areas that care for those with serious illness and have end-of-life care needs. Another Hospice News article shares how the number of people needing hospice care has soared during the pandemic, but much of the emergency healthcare assistance has gone to hospitals, leaving hospice and palliative care providers in the lurch. Furthermore, “Even prior to the pandemic, staffing concerns topped the list of worries in 2020 among hospice providers who responded to a Hospice News survey conducted earlier this year. Staff burnout has forced many hospices to reevaluate their policies around paid leave/paid time off (PTO) as employees respond to childcare needs with school closures and remote learning, as well as falling ill to the virus themselves or quarantining after possible exposure.” In addition to the earlier burnout threats, new potential contributors to burnout include the risk of infection and greater threats to work/life balance.

How to Counteract Burnout Among Hospice Caregivers
One suggestion from Hospice News for preventing and avoiding burnout in the wake of COVID-19, is “providing resources for self-care facilitation and staffing support for balanced workloads [that] could improve quality of life among interdisciplinary hospice teams and the patients and families they serve.” Other worthwhile strategies to incorporate include “employee appreciation efforts to boost morale and providing increased access to mental health services and PTO.” 

Encouraging and Practicing Self-Care Is Vital
According to the American Hospice Foundation, “People drawn to hospice work have an abundance of caring concern for those they serve.” Even under ordinary circumstances, they “are faced with the pressure to sacrifice their own well-being for their patient’s needs. The love and caring that make hospice workers so special can also serve as a major source of stress in their lives.” For long term success as a professional caregiver in a hospice setting, “It is essential to have a lifestyle that incorporates manageable stress-reducing techniques.” Ultimately, an important element of hspice advice for caregivers is that they must learn to practice self-care that supports their careers, from learning to say goodbye to patients, a natural part of every hospice patient relationship, to allowing oneself to grieve. Maintaining attention to basic health needs is a must, as is sustaining and supporting one’s family.  Finding ways to relax is another essential component of coping with the pressure of this very important caregiving role.

HealthStream understands the emotional impact of hospice and palliative care on the healthcare workforce and supports the team approach needed by providing education in palliative care and professional boundaries. We help organizations tackle turnover through streamlined onboarding and training initiatives and mitigate risk through seamless navigation of annual regulatory requirements. With HealthStream, hospice staff can focus on what’s really important—the comfort of the patients and families they serve. Learn more about HealthStream solutions tailored to the hospice and palliative workforce.

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