Leadership in seniors care
Seniors Care: Leadership in seniors care
By Lillian Hung, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing and instructor for the MHLP in Seniors Care program
Like many, my heart sinks daily at the tragedies and suffering disproportionally faced by our seniors because of COVID-19. This virus has had an outsized impact on older people, particularly those in long-term care. It’s also had a profound effect on the front-line staff who work with seniors. Our care workers are mentally and physically exhausted, and burnout is a real problem. The seniors care sector had staffing issues before the pandemic, but now, almost one year in, the situation is particularly acute.
There are many lessons to be learned from COVID-19, and one of the most important is that we need knowledgeable leaders, both to ensure the delivery of quality care to some of the most vulnerable members of our population and to build a resilient and sustainable workforce.
These two outcomes are intertwined: front-line workers who feel respected and valued are better positioned to provide seniors with the care they deserve.
COVID-19 has revealed the weakness and fragility of our long-term care systems. We are in a perfect storm of workforce crisis in seniors care, and leaders are challenged to make seniors care an attractive and rewarding place to work. In our MHLP program, students learn to use practical science to critically analyze pressing issues to inform actions that create a better future.
I teach a philosophies of care class where we explore person-centred care, strength-based approaches and appreciative inquiry. While these approaches are meant to inform our work with older adults, they can also be successfully used to lead teams of front-line workers and empower them to explore ways to deliver better and more innovative care.
The Seniors Care classes include practical case studies based on what’s happening in local health-care settings, including field analysis and interviews with leaders and staff. These case studies allow us to take a close look at the ingredients that make innovative projects successful.
Our students also take business and leadership courses as part of their master’s degree, where they learn strategies for being good managers and for leading and inspiring teams to embrace and pursue innovation, reform and quality improvements. The program’s emphasis on collaborative group work and the many requirements to give presentations helps students build their communication and interpersonal skills. These skills are essential for leaders tasked with inspiring teams to think and work in new ways.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges facing seniors care, particularly when long-standing issues have been exacerbated by the impacts of the coronavirus. Our students come to the program with at least three years of professional experience, which means they are well aware of the issues within the sector.
The MHLP curriculum helps them understand the larger systemic factors that contribute to these challenges and launches many conversations about what system and policy changes are needed to create a more resilient and sustainable sector.
The MHLP in Seniors Care is an excellent program for individuals who aspire to be leaders in this field, giving them the tools to work for positive change. The program is also offered part time, over two years, and this makes it easier for students to continue working while pursuing a master’s degree. The interplay between the two can be very rewarding, allowing students to immediately apply the knowledge gained in their courses within their work environments.
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