Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Compassion Fatigue for a Reason - and why it hurts you

You may never heard of a condition that you might have. It's called by some Compassion Fatigue, and it refers to that point in time when stress, fatigue and tension start overtaking compassion and caring.

It's a feeling common to caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer's disease, many of whom suffer more physical and emotional ailments than the people in their care.

It's becoming increasingly common with professional caregivers, too. These are the home care workers, the nursing assistants and the assisted living caregivers who work for the love of the job and their clients - not the money.

In times of economic downturn, these are the folks who get hurt the most.

Many of them have no company-paid health insurance. Their real wages, in terms of buying power has actually decreased, according to PHI.

This decline in wages is even more distressing when you compare caregivers' wages to wages earned in other occupations.

It's no wonder that many of these hardworking individuals are being stretched even tighter in these challenging economic times.

PHI lists the 9 Elements of a Quality Job. It's their mission to advocate for direct care workers to achieve these elements:

1. Family sustaining wages (we're not moving in the right direction on this one yet).

2. Affordable health insurance (in my state - Oregon, there are 612,000 people without insurance. In tough economic times, this number increases dramatically).

3. Full-time hours (many caregivers work irregular, part time shifts. It's tough for many, especially home care workers, to cobble together the equivalent of full time work).

4. Excellent training (my area of passion; a pivotal area of determining the quality of care that will be delivered).

5. Participation in decisions (empowering employees means greater job satisfaction. It means the good ones might just stay).

6. Career advancement (an opportunity through training to advance through a "career ladder" to increased opportunity and pay).

7. Linkages to services (removing barriers to work for some who would be great caregivers but need support to get started).

8. Supervisors who set clear expectation and encourage and support as well (leadership is one of the greatest needs in health care today).

9. Owners and managers who are willing to truly implement a system of quality improvement.

These 9 element break down into three main areas: Compensation, Opportunity and Support.

Without these elements, those individuals who provide care to my mom and yours will suffer enough compassion fatigue to possibly lose them from the caregiving workforce.

And that will hurt me. And you. And our elderly loved ones.

It's time for all of us to better understand this challenge and continue to advocate for relief for these very valuable, very caring individuals.

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