I am pleased to introduce a former SeniorLivingU co-worker, Amber Kustan. Amber is now the Project Coordinator for Country Meadows Retirement Communities. Being on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic has given Amber clear insight into the stress and anxiety felt by many direct care workers. She graciously agreed to share the many ideas she helped implement to assist in the care of these extremely important workers that fight this terrible pandemic daily.

It’s no secret that retaining coworkers in the long-term care industry is challenging. Add to that equation a pandemic and the stress of rapid change, and the task becomes even more daunting. Some caregivers will inevitably decide that long-term care isn’t the right industry for them and choose to leave. For those loyal and dedicated team members who step up to the challenge, here are some ways to show your appreciation.

Appreciation Pay

Many companies are paying their coworkers “hazard pay,” and it is undoubtedly motivation for some to stay on board during a crisis. If this is something that fits into your budget, do it. The payoff will be worth it. During COVID-19, some companies are providing an additional dollar or two an hour to all coworkers, along with extra funds for coworkers who are caring for residents with coronavirus. If you decide to do this, you should put this temporary policy in writing. You want your coworkers to know what they’re receiving and for how long to make it as clear as possible.


It seems like common knowledge, but you may be surprised to know how many coworkers often feel left in the dark when changes are happening around them. There are simple actions you can take to make them feel included. Try to communicate information to your team daily, including stories, inspirational quotes, feel-good moments from staff, and updates to policies or procedures within your building. Email can be an excellent source of communication, but keep in mind that you may have coworkers who do not have access to a computer. Remember to post printed copies of any changes to policy in a break room, or hand it out at shift change.

Cards and Words

It’s easy to post a giant card signed by all managers letting your coworkers know how much they are appreciated. Even having a card that is sent from one department to another (dining to nurses, etc.) could be very encouraging during a time like this.


Go back to those childhood days where you wrote messages and drew happy pictures on the sidewalk and bring it to the entrances of your buildings. Write words of hope and appreciation for your staff to see as they enter the building. It sounds simple, but when they walk into a long shift not knowing what the night will hold, these drawings and words go a long way.


This is a big perk for many people, especially during a time when money may be tight for their household. Offer free coworker meals from your dining room during times of crisis. Of course, consider the extra strain it may put on your dining team, and make it a process that everyone is comfortable with and can agree upon.

nurse with mask and food

Reach out to local distributors (including those you may use at your facility) and see if they are willing to donate produce or other miscellaneous grocery items to your staff. Offer an in-house store (free of charge) for your coworkers to shop safely and get items that they may not have been able to find at the grocery store.

Order snacks or beverages from a local bulk store to be delivered to your community for your coworkers. Don’t forget about the night shift! Save them some snacks from the morning delivery or consider having breakfast from a local restaurant delivered in the early morning.


Extra time to decompress helps significantly to alleviate mental strain. Consider offering a day off (paid or unpaid depending on your budget) to a coworker and finding coverage for him or her. If you can’t have your coworkers taking time off in the middle of a crisis, consider adding additional hours to their PTO bank that they can use later. This way, when they are ready for a break, they will have the time to do so.

Mental Health

Make coworkers aware of any free counseling programs that your company offers through an Employee Assistance Program. If you have a social worker on-site, ask if they would be willing to help coworkers that need to talk. Include this availability in your communication every day. If space allows, create a relaxation room in your community for coworkers to go and take a breath.


During this time, let staff wear items they are most comfortable in, like their own scrubs, jeans, favorite T-shirt, etc. This will help them feel more comfortable, despite having to wear additional PPE.


We are all learning together during this uncertain time, and your coworkers understand this. An excellent way to take a pulse on how you are doing as a company or to find out what your coworkers value is to ask them to take an anonymous survey. Ask questions like, “What is one way you feel appreciated by your place of employment?” By allowing them to answer anonymously, they will be more honest in their responses. This feedback can help you decide what they need during these times and what is a priority to them. Seeking feedback is the best way to ensure your efforts are on target.

At the end of the day, it’s essential that we all take care of each other and ourselves. Encourage your staff to care for themselves, and let them know you are there to help them. By encouraging them to participate in self-care, they will be better employees and caregivers.