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‘In the shower crying…but we came back in the following day and did it all again’: Distress and resilience in care home staff during the COVID-19 pandemic– A qualitative interview study

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Article number286
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>27/03/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>BMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background: Care homes (long-term care facilities) were profoundly impacted early in the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of resident mortality and restrictions for infection control. This study investigated the impact on the emotional well-being of care home staff of challenges faced at this time, and the strategies used to manage them. Methods: Semi-structured interviews conducted October 2020-June 2021 with care home staff and health service staff working with them explored the impact of the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020-June 2021). Interview data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Results: Interview participants were 16 care home staff and 10 health service staff. Analysis generated four key themes: 1)Anxiety and distress, 2)Overwhelming workload, 3)Pulling through; and 4)Resilience in a time of crisis. Care home staff experienced Anxiety and distress due to uncertainty of what to expect; witnessing illness and deaths of residents; concerns regarding their own health, and sometimes feeling their work was under-recognised. They also experienced an Overwhelming workload due to infection control measures, caring for sick residents and reduction in external healthcare support. Our theme of Pulling through reflects the peer support and problem-solving strategies with which care home staff managed the impact of the pandemic, along with a sense of responsibility and meaning towards their work. An overarching theme of Resilience in a time of crisis drew on the other three themes and describes how many staff managed, maintained, and often increased their work despite the challenges of the pandemic. Participants also described increasing emotional fatigue as the pandemic continued. Conclusions: This paper builds on literature on the emotional impact of the pandemic on care home staff, also exploring ways that staff responded to this impact. These findings can help inform planning for future crises including disease outbreaks, and raise important questions for further work to develop pandemic preparedness in care homes and beyond. They also raise wider questions about the current cultural status of care work, which may have exposed care home staff to greater risk of distress, and which contrasts with the professionalism and responsibility shown by staff in response to pandemic challenges.