Matt Cantrell, COO, National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA)
CNA (Certified Nursing Assistants) Week, set for June 17-24, is much more than just a symbolic tribute to the health care professionals who risked their own lives and safety to care for residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a true celebration of CNAs and a recognition of the essential role they play every day in the lives of millions of older adults and others who move through (and those who come to stay) in post-acute and long-term care communities including hospice, as well as those in home care.
Why is this important? CNAs care for some of the most complex patients, many with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive impairment. They are essential members of the interdisciplinary team who know the residents – and often their families – better than anyone else. And they have more understanding and knowledge about how to address challenging issues than some may realize. Take the story of veteran CNA, Branden Fillbrook. During a recent National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA) webinar, he told the story of a resident with dementia who called him to her room in panic. She said her grandson was in the basement alone and she had to get up and check on him. Instead of trying to convince her that her grandson was safe and that she was in a nursing home, he promised that he would check on her grandson and make sure he was okay. That totally appeased the resident. Fillbrook’s quick thinking and knowledge of this resident helped calm her down and keep the situation from escalating into a catastrophic event.
During the pandemic, CNAs didn’t just have a challenging job; it put them at great risk. In fact, they were identified as having the most dangerous job in the country. A Scientific American analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that death rates among nursing home staff ranked among the highest for any job in the nation. Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) had at least 80 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees last year.
The challenges for these professionals during this devastating time were seemingly endless. They were often forced to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE), and they had to make do during shortages. For instance, crafting makeshift gowns from garbage bags was not uncommon. Some lived in the communities they worked in for weeks so that they wouldn’t bring the COVID-19 virus in or take it home to their families. They were under tremendous stress, yet they persevered. Many got sick, and some died; and all made sacrifices.
While organizations and communities made an effort to recognize their CNA heroes, even some of the best intentions fell short. Pizza parties and lunches were nice gestures, but they didn’t really touch the hearts and souls of these individuals who work with so much love and dedication for their residents. That is where CNA Week comes in. It is a nationwide celebration, a love letter to the men and women whose commitment and knowledge to compassionate, life changing work too often goes un- or under-appreciated.
NAHCA has put together a downloadable CNA Week toolkit. It includes a powerful, passionate video recognizing CNAs and this special week in their honor, as well as logos and artwork that can be used on websites, social media, newsletter articles, and more. Additionally, NAHCA has planned two exclusive webinars for CNA Week. “Know Your Value as a CNA,” featuring NAHCA co-founder and CEO Lori Porter and special guest, Arif Nazir, MD, CMD, chief medical officer of Signature HealthCare, will kick off CNA Week on June 17. Then Porter will wrap up the week on June 24 with a program on “Self-Advocacy at Work,” where she will address workplace challenges such as difficult coworkers or supervisors, bullying, bias and favoritism, gossip, and gaslighting.
There are many ways communities can celebrate the CNA heroes during this special week devoted to them. Consider:
- Displaying photos of CNAs “caring in action” around the community.
- Hold a ceremony to honor CNAs on your staff.
- Offer additional resources or educational opportunities to help CNAs expand their careers.
- Give the gift of family: Provide CNAs with gift cards or time off to make memories with their own families; or consider having events, such as CNA night at your local ballpark or family night at an area arcade or sports complex.
- Let residents and families know that it’s CNA Week and encourage them to join you in the celebration.
- Make sure CNAs have access to the mental health and wellness services they need and want.
Additionally, NAHCA encourages community and team leaders to think out of the box and devise their own ways to celebrate and honor their CNAs. In the end, these team members are proud of the work they do and have quality care as their top priority. They don’t live to be recognized, but we owe it to them to do so. When CNAs are engaged, involved, and appreciated, everyone benefits.
The truest way we have of celebrating the value of CNAs is to pay them what they deserve; ensure that there are enough CNAs on duty on every shift so workloads are reasonable and so CNAs can feel the joy of knowing they really have the time to provide person-centered care; and include them in policy-making and operational decisions. Do not marginalize them. Make CNAs true partners in the enterprise.
One way to begin is to introduce budget transparency. Let all stakeholders (residents, families, employees) know what the financial picture in the facility is.