The stakes are high in medicine and healthcare – they pertain to life and death, as the current pandemic has reminded us on an hourly basis. This is especially true when it comes to those who care for our older adults, given their high vulnerability to COVID-19. For many older adults, this illness has proven deadly.
Rightfully, given the potential for harm, aging services providers are held to high standards and expectations. We are taught to focus on what went wrong and fix it; every aspect of quality assurance in our industry is built on a platform that looks for “deficiencies” in care and service delivery, investigates them, and demands correction. Yet that is only part of an effective process that builds communities conducive to providing quality care that promotes health and well-being.
An investigation should also help identify what went well—aspects of performance that produced the desired outcome so that the actions can be affirmed and recreated throughout the organization. This is often forgotten as a focus of investigations and performance improvement. A recent article, Why We Care When Things Go Right by an investigator-in-charge (IIC) at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), explains this important purpose of investigations well.
“When we investigate an accident, we don’t only look for the things that went wrong, but we also look for those that went right. Sometimes these “rights” ensure the accident didn’t become an even greater tragedy, and sharing them can help crewmembers and operators in the future ensure the safest flight possible.”
As within all of medicine and healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed opportunities for improvement that must be acted upon by aging services providers. But these challenges should not obscure the fact that much went right and must be affirmed, disseminated, and kept as a standard of practice. Throughout the pandemic, healthcare personnel have helped prevent harm by:
- Maintaining their commitment to continuity of care. Continuity of care is highly dependent on continuity of staffing and scheduling. Aging Services healthcare professionals remained resolute in their endeavor to prevent harm to residents and protect their peers, often at their own risk.
- Adapting and operationalizing care and service delivery with outbreak response control measures, such as cohorting and infection control, to meet rapidly changing requirements and guidelines from multiple agencies and authorities.
- Ensuring ongoing communication to all stakeholders through numerous channels, both internal and external, in environments with ever- and rapidly-changing expectations and needs.
- Educating, assessing, and providing support for the psychosocial needs of all parties—residents, families, and staff—such as by using social media to keep residents and families in contact and adapting recreational therapy programming to meet social and physical distancing needs.
- Creating solutions to accomplish care-critical daily goals with sometimes unavailable or mismatched resources, such as personal protective equipment and staffing.
This list is far from exhaustive but demonstrates that the aging services industry continues to provide quality care to our residents, even with the world looking in on us. The determined people in the aging services industry proved in 2020 that they are tough, adaptable, creative, and willing to take risks for those they serve and serve beside.
Before, during, and, eventually, after the pandemic, aging services providers maintain an ever-constant focus on the persons served – the residents and patients within their care. This includes the role of caregiver as well as surrogate family member. These hard-earned lessons need to become part of our nation’s public health system to care for our older adults.
As we look back at what has gone wrong, don’t forget to look back at what has gone right: the lives saved, the infections prevented, and the everyday tasks that gave hope to those we provide for. The stakes are high, and so are the rewards, and surely the health and wellness of our residents, patients, and staff is the ultimate accolade.