Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
When families seek mental health treatment, it’s often because of a “problem child.” Family therapists consider this person to be the “identified patient” and recognize that the troubled individual is part of a family unit whose members all benefit from assistance.
By contrast, when a resident enters long-term care, we tend to focus solely on the needs of the resident, even though they’re almost always part of a family system that is being affected by their placement.
Oddly, we do this in spite of the fact that it’s frequently a family member who chooses the facility or community where the loved one will live.
If we consider that we’re admitting families rather than just the residents themselves, we’d recognize the need to provide family-centered care in addition to resident-centered care.
Instead, we repeatedly attend to the needs of families in a haphazard, reactive fashion. Those tense family meetings with the director of nursing and the administrator after the staff “mishandled” an interaction with a family member are more likely a lack of organizational attention to the needs of families and an absence of proper training than they are a reflection of staff error or of a “difficult” family.
Here are some ways to implement family-centered care:
1. Convey essential information to families about your facility or campus in a way that’s easy to access. If your website offers only platitudes about how you really care and then lists insurance options, you’re telling potential customers what you really care about and it isn’t them. Instead, turn your site into a 24/7 support kiosk, answering questions families commonly have about your community and helping them to be better caregivers and community members. Include, for example, information about their role in care plan meetings or how to help their loved one adjust to their new home. Add a list of resources they might want to consult. (My book, “The Savvy Resident’s Guide,” for example, is one way to offer information and soothe the frayed nerves of family members.)
2. Hold regular family meetings on topics that frequently affect them, such as caregiver stress, understanding dementia, and making the most of an off-campus pass (a great session to hold before the holiday season, hint, hint). Even though this may seem like yet another task to add to an already burdened staff, it will save time in the long run: Rather than answer the same questions individually, your staff can direct families to the meetings where questions can be discussed simultaneously and in depth.
3. Reach out to families during transitions in care, such as moving from an independent apartment to the care center in a continuing care retirement community.