The Importance of CNAs in Long Term Care
The decision to place a loved one in a long term care facility is not an easy one. This decision often comes at a point of desperation, when care becomes too physically demanding, their supervision needs too constant, or balancing other responsibilities becomes too complicated. Families that opt to place an elderly or special needs loved one in a long term care facility place a great amount of trust in the caregivers. As a certified nursing assistant, you have the most influence on overall patient and family experience, with the ability to create a caring, safe, and home-like environment.
The Role of CNAs in Long Term Care
CNAs are the trained professionals providing the most direct patient care in long term care facilities. You are often responsible for feeding, bathing, talking to, sitting with, and caring for other people’s loved ones. CNA job duties are physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, and it takes a very particular combination of kindness, patience, and intelligence to do the job well.
While CNA programs are sometimes started by students who want a quick degree with high earning potential, most will quickly realize that this job is not for everyone; it is challenging and requires genuine caring for the well-being of others. For those who stick with it, though, a career path in nursing can be incredibly rewarding.
The role of certified nursing assistants in long term care facilities is to provide basic daily care for the residents, preserving dignity and monitoring for any changes or concerns in their physical or mental state in the process. While doctors and nurses oversee the majority of the medical care of the residents, CNAs are their eyes and ears, using their intimate knowledge of the patients’ day-to-day norms to pick up on any subtle changes and often being the first to spot any concerns.
There are varying levels of care needed by long term care residents, but common needs include bathing, dressing, brushing teeth, combing hair, assisting with toileting and changing soiled linens, feeding, assisting with ambulation and position changes, and providing companionship and preventing the negative effects of loneliness. Assessment skills are necessary for tracking skin integrity, breathing and circulatory patterns, cognition, movement, and vital signs, and the ability to pick up on any changes (particularly subtle or rapid ones) is paramount.
While completing any of these tasks, it is incredibly important to remember that these residents are individuals with histories, and that, in most cases, they used to be young and able-bodied with intelligence, passions, and drive just like you; therefore, preserving their identities and dignity is just as important as the daily checklist of care tasks. This preservation of dignity and genuine caring is not only important to create a sense of safety and general well-being among the residents, but also has a big impact on the impression family members get when they visit their loved ones. Seeing a loved one resting comfortably with freshly washed hair and clean sheets, and receiving an individualized update from a friendly and familiar CNA can provide a sense of calm and peace-of-mind to those visiting their family. CNAs not only have the ability to positively impact the lives and health of the residents they care for, but also to shape the experience of the entire family during a difficult time, a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Workplace Improvements for CNAs
If the importance and responsibilities of this role sound overwhelming, it is because they often can be. Poor staffing ratios, facilities over capacity, long hours, and the physical demands of lifting and moving heavy patients can cause stress, injuries, and burnout for even the most passionate caregivers. CNAs who are overworked and improperly supported are more likely to make mistakes, rush through tasks, be considered rough or insensitive, or lose enjoyment in their jobs. These factors have, over time, contributed to the negative stigma that sometimes surrounds long term care facilities and their workers.
Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the importance of staffing ratios, livable working hours, and assistive devices for all nursing professionals and, consequently, positive patient outcomes and satisfaction. In recent years, legislation for smaller staffing ratios and safe working conditions has taken center stage and conditions across the country are slowly but surely improving. With fewer patients under their care at one time, CNAs are better able to provide the individualized care that they desire and patients deserve, creating a safer environment for all involved.
Requirements for completed clinical hours as well as passing a written exam to obtain certification also ensures that those in CNA roles are fully qualified and have met standards of education before entering the workforce. Being part of a well educated, appropriately sized team creates an environment that supports safety, efficiency, and satisfaction for both employees and residents of long term care facilities. The more efficiently a team of CNAs functions, the better able nurses, doctors, and others involved in patient care can perform their jobs as well, creating an overall positive, upstream effect.
As with any area of healthcare, there is still room for improvement and the fight for optimal standards of care is a work in progress. Taking an active role in the legislative processes surrounding nurses is important for new and experienced CNAs alike, either through attending local chapter meetings for professional advocacy groups, joining activist events or writing to elected representatives, or backing campaigns for legislators who support improvement in patient care standards.
An aging Baby Boomer generation means that more and more people will be in need of long term care facilities in the coming years, and there will be a great demand for quality professionals to care for them. Considering work as a CNA is a challenging, rewarding, and impactful way to exercise skills in compassion, teamwork, and assessment while caring for others and providing a vital role for society.