Four Ideas to Guide Caregivers' Interactions with Care Facilities
A long-time family friend called recently with a pressing question. "How did you begin to work with the care facility once you placed your mom there?" Pam asked. She had recently placed her husband, who suffers a disease that attacks the brain, in an assisted living facility. Our conversation led to some suggestions that might be useful to caregivers who face this difficult transition. These suggestions are:
- Build relationships with the care facility staff, including the administration, the nurses, the aides, the dietician, and the activity director. These people can make a big difference in your loved one's transition to the care facility as well as the time they live in the facility. Share information about your loved one's history, including likes and dislikes. Be sure to attend care-team meetings so you can find out what the staff members are seeing in relation to your loved one. By building a relationship with these staff members, you can more easily advocate for your loved one when problems crop up or when additional health issues begin to emerge.
- Be visible, especially during the first few months. Go at different times of the day so that you meet different staff members who work different shifts. If you have family members in the area, ask them to stop by to visit your loved one at times when you are not there. Then compare notes on the care that's being given to your loved one.
- Let staff know when there are serious issues. And be sure to document your findings. Problems will crop up. In my mom's case, the issue was changing the oxygen bottle. For a period of time, we found when we visited that Mom was gasping for breath because her oxygen tank was empty. So we began pointing out the issue first to the nurses who were on duty. When we didn't get satisfaction, we went to talk to the director of nursing. When that didn't change the situation, we set up a meeting with the care facility's administrator. We took in a list of dates when we observed problems (and afterward I began e-mailing the administrator with updates of oxygen issues). We tried to avoid being negative in our focus, but did keep bringing it to their attention. What we found was that the staff began to be more attentive to Mom's oxygen. (Please note that I would also suggest that you determine what constitutes a "serious issue" when considering complaining. Not having oxygen is a serious issue; other concerns may not reach this bar and if you begin complaining about minor issues, you risk setting yourself up to damage your relationship with nursing home staff).
- Be sure to find ways to say thank you! Working in a care facility can be a thankless task, so finding ways to thank those who work there will be greatly appreciated. We used a variety of ways, including: giving gift certificates at holidays to the shift nurses with the understanding that they would have a meal delivered from a local restaurant for staff members who were working that shift; providing cookies and other types of treats; and nominating a deserving staff member for "employee of the month." By doing these types of appreciation activities, we were able to say thank you to those who spent much of their days caring for Mom, and also build goodwill that helped us when issues arose.
These four categories provide you with the basic framework that worked with me in dealing with a care facility. Others may have different ideas. Please share what your experience has been or is currently, as well as additional ideas of working with nursing homes.