Clinical nurse leaders (CNLs) have an eye for continuous improvement, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that instinct into overdrive. CNLs have quickly adapted their approach to patient care, often on the fly and as new information emerges. Nurse leaders have doubled down on advocacy efforts, particularly for the elderly who are disproportionately impacted by the virus.
A Master of Science in Nursing program with a focus on gerontological care can equip healthcare professionals to care for older adults with chronic and complex conditions. Below are some of the novel solutions nurse leaders have adopted as they navigate the novel coronavirus:
A PPE Distribution Network
During the early months of the pandemic, widespread PPE shortages threatened the safety of healthcare workers around the world. In response, nurse leaders and entrepreneurs established the Strengthen Healthcare Ability to Respond to Emergencies (SHARE) program. The group’s primary goal was to locate, collect, purchase and distribute critical protective equipment to frontline workers.
By May 2020, the SHARE program had distributed more than 250,000 pieces of PPE along with 30,000 respirator masks, allowing healthcare workers to continue safely caring for the influx of COVID-19 patients.
Gerontology nurse leaders have long recognized the importance of helping elders maintain a social network. As a result, many nursing homes and hospitals have had to prohibit or severely limit outside visitors to stem virus transmission, negatively affecting patient morale.
Nurse executives were quick to notice and respond. They now routinely use video chat and phone calls to keep loved ones up to date and foster ongoing interactions. For example, a 100-year-old patient who had not seen or spoken with her children in weeks expressed “immediate sighs of relief and happiness” when connected virtually, says the Patient Experience Journal.
Frailty Scores as Part of Care Plans
Frailty scores are typically used to assess a patient’s risk and predict poor outcomes, says the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN). U.S. clinicians began relying more heavily on these scores to determine if patients would benefit from aggressive COVID interventions, including ICU admission and ventilation.
Beyond that, nurse leaders have recognized that the metric could prioritize patients’ strengths instead of just focusing on their diagnoses. This slight shift in thinking has moved “the culture of care from disease-based to goal-based and resident-centered,” says AAPACN. Frailty calculations also offer an objective reference point when discussing expectations with family members.
New Dialogue About Aging
Ageism remains a prominent issue, and the pandemic has highlighted this fact. For example, dismissive phrases like “COVID only harms older adults” imply that their lives are less valuable and minimize the seriousness of the pandemic.
The Reframing Aging Initiative, spearheaded by the Gerontological Society of America and promoted by nurse leaders throughout the nation, has sought to change the conversation. With resources for healthcare providers and the public, the initiative has increased advocacy efforts for older adults and restructured common misconceptions about aging. The new dialogue will likely influence policies and improve care overall.
Prioritized Residents’ Well-Being
With social distancing guidelines in place and visitation schedules disrupted, nursing home residents have lost much of their autonomy and freedom. Residents are “eating less, talking less and moving less,” says an article in Geriatric Nursing, but nurse leaders have implemented several minor changes to prioritize resident well-being.
In some locations, transportation aides not only deliver meals to residents but also stay a while to visit. Residents are encouraged to sit outside if the weather is nice and incorporate music and television to enhance their days. Some facilities have even held outdoor concerts for residents to watch from their balconies, boosting moods and creating a stronger sense of community.
Ultimately, clinical nurse leaders are natural innovators who have been instrumental in navigating the pandemic. The skills of CNLs focused on gerontology, in particular, apply to a variety of settings ranging from hospitals and medical centers to elder care facilities like nursing homes.
With their unique mix of skills — bedside and research experience combined with an understanding of global health, organizational efficiency and at-risk populations — CNLs have the potential to solve healthcare’s most complex and pressing problems.