Currently, we are at a crossroads in our workforce when it comes to the care required for those we serve. Especially when it comes to situations when family members and friends are delivering care upon hospital discharge. There is also the dynamic of the same type of service provided while a loved one is in the hospital and supporting front-line staff in residential care facilities and nursing homes.
An interesting dynamic has occurred during COVID concerning visitations. Yes, being present in a hospital room may impede staff when there is a staff shortage; however, there may also be of significant benefit, not only as a support system for patients but also for the caregivers.
So how should we embrace this invisible workforce? Should we negate their value or bring them in under the caregiver tent? I believe, the latter may be able to enhance care and further mitigate our present labor shortage. But is this approach appropriate? I think so, especially given it is happening all over and seems to be desired by both the family and the healthcare ecosystem if done appropriately.
For success to occur and continue, we must examine all the components that sustain such a model. Treating the family member as a beneficial component of the care team is the first step. Acknowledging their value and respecting them as healthcare providers is important so they feel empowered. Obviously, they do not have the same training; however, they are only taking care of a single person with a limited number of issues. So quick and real-time education is a distinct possibility.
Another component of engaging and empowering family members as caregivers is they can bring a sense of community and belonging to those we serve. Indeed, there will be times when such activities are inappropriate, and family members will not adequately handle the situation. However, let us embrace the idea and innovate within the possible limitations. We would be remiss to realize the problem is already upon us. Let us leverage the love, and ability family members bring to the bedside. Let us remember that we are the outsiders invited into the lives of those we serve. Hence, we can improve the psyche of both those we serve and their invisible caregivers by acknowledging their value and presence, incorporating them into our care delivery models, and supporting them with education and training.