A place where caring never stops

Photo and story by Stefanie Brazile

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched healthcare workers to their physical and emotional limits and leaders are trying new techniques to avoid burnout.

When the lockdown began in 2020, Salem Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center’s Administrator Sheri Heslep and her managers noticed the effects on staff morale. Because family and friends could not enter the building and community groups could not visit to sing, play games, or even cut hair, the staff added to their duties.

“Staff members have absolutely been picking up slack with the lack of visitors,” said Erica Gunther, a registered nurse and the director of nursing. “In fact, our administrator was cutting residents’ hair during the time period that we were not able to have a beautician come in. The residents have always been like family to our staff members, but during the pandemic, the caring ways of our staff has truly come to light as they continue to go above and beyond to keep residents’ lives as normal as possible.”

Leaders Erica Gunther (from left), Sheri Heslep and Alysa Tiner celebrate the heroes that work at Salem Place Nursing and Rehab.

Healthcare workers also have concerns at home and with the health of their loved ones and friends. Fear of infection and making an extra effort to stay healthy add to the emotional load.

“COVID-19 has really put a damper on staff morale. Everyone is exhausted, and the weight of a pandemic really does weigh heavily on healthcare workers,” Heslep said. “We have done things like the all-too-familiar pizza parties, but we also just make it a point to acknowledge the positive things that are occurring. If someone did something right, we want to give them credit for that. I think that simply recognizing employees goes a long way.”

The facility has served patients for 32 years and about 110 people work to care for patients. Even though the staff is needed more than ever, they are encouraged to take time away from serving patients to avoid burnout.

“Ensuring that staff does not overwork themselves and that they are taking the all-too-important days off plays a major role in managing burnout,” said Alysa Tiner, a registered nurse and the assistant director of nursing. 

“We also encourage staff to come and talk to us when things are becoming too much and they feel that there is a need for change,” she said. “Salem Place has such a strong team and the amount of teamwork and encouragement internally has been amazing to experience. Every department from housekeeping to nursing has worked hand in hand to ensure that our residents and staff stayed safe.”

Experts wonder what effect the worldwide pandemic will have on the number of people entering health professions in the future. The term “essential workers” has been highlighted and shortages have been felt.

“My hope is that this will lead to more people feeling called to help,” Heslep said. “Healthcare workers have come to be held in such a high regard and the respect around healthcare workers has certainly increased. Hopefully, this will turn into people aspiring to have a career in healthcare and feeling called to help others as the nurses and aides have done during all of this.”