John O'Connor
John O’Connor

It’s hard to believe some of the things that exist actually exist.

Carpeting in bathrooms? Steering wheels with TV screens? Enthusiastic nurses in senior living?

The last item might be the toughest of all to figure out. But trust me, such caregivers are out there. In fact, I ran into hundreds of them earlier this week. They were gathered in Orlando, FL, for the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration of Long-Term Care’s 36th annual meeting. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more spirited group.

The NADONA attendees provided quite a contrast to the rampant doom-and-gloom we often see elsewhere in the sector. Not that the Eeyores of this sector don’t have a point. Let’s face it, these are not the best of times for communities or the people who work in them.

For starters, available workers are in short supply. That alone is bad enough. And as a consequence, a lot of the folks who have stuck around are routinely being told they must put in extra hours when their workday ends, or perhaps pull an extra shift over the coming weekend. Those sorts of invitations are all too common. They are not exactly what you’d call morale boosters.

Then there’s this: Even when all is well, the work is physically, mentally and psychologically challenging. And talk about a sector in need of better marketing. How many children out there are hoping that if all goes well, they just might be lucky enough to land a gig in long-term care when they grow up?

Throw in increasing regulations, funding scarcity and indifferent managers, and the bloom can fall off that rose in record time.

Now I’m not trying to insinuate that nursing or health and wellness directors are immune to these and other challenges. They are not.

In fact, we are about to release a podcast recorded at NADONA called “An open letter to administrators.” This session lays out some of their leading concerns — and how administrators can help. (Full disclosure: This podcast was sponsored by PharMerica.) I think most administrators/executive directors will find listening to the podcast is 20 minutes well spent.

I found the NADONA show to be truly inspiring. These nurses are chock full of grit, enthusiasm and compassion. They also happen to be rightfully proud of the important work they do.

Just imagine what they might accomplish with a bit more help.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.