In a recent New York Times blog entitled "Easing Tensions In The Nursing Home," author Paula Span addresses the important issue of tension between family members and nursing home staff. As you can imagine, most, if not all, of the issues contributing to this tension is a family's belief their loved one is not being cared for in an appropriate manner against the staff's belief to the contrary.
According to Ms. Span, the tension between family and staff leaves the family concerned that, if they voice their concerns, their family member will suffer because unhappy staff will, in some way, retaliate against the resident for the complaints of the family. To avoid, or at least lessen, the chance for tension between family and staff, Ms. Span provides the suggestions of Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, and the sociologist J. Jill Suitor of Purdue University:
- Take complaints and requests to the right place. While aides do most of the hands-on care in nursing homes: “They’re almost never the ones who are making decisions about it. You’ve got to go high enough up the chain to make sure the person you talk to has the ability to influence what goes on.” The staff social worker is a starting point.
- When a problem involves an aide’s duties, practice “clear and respectful communication.” “Avoid blaming the other person. As people get angry, there’s a tendency to insult the other party, and it escalates.” A demand or reproach — “How come nobody’s shaved my father?” — puts overworked staffers on the defensive. Try phrasing it this way: “I noticed my father isn’t shaved. This is very important to him. How can we make sure he’s shaved every day?” After the conversation, summarize to clarify the agreement you have reached: “I understand that you were short-staffed today. But he will be shaved every morning — is that what you’re saying?”
- Keep visiting, and monitoring. “The amount of visiting people receive is directly related to the quality of care. Families do need to advocate for their relatives, but they need to do it in the right way.”
- Give positive feedback as often as possible.
In a previous blog post, entitled "The Ombudsman for the Idaho Commission on Aging is on the Side of Idaho Nursing Home Residents," I addressed the role of the Idaho Ombudsman for long term care in addressing concerns regarding teh care of nursing home and assisted living facility residents. Regardless of the involvement of the Ombudsman, it is important you, as a loving and caring family member, are able to effectively communicate your concerns with the proper individual at the facility so your family member does receive the proper care. As Ms. Span and Mr. Pillemer suggest, perhaps the most important contact at any nursing home or assisted living facility is the social worker or, if none is available, the director of the facility.
I suggest not only approaching the appropriate individual with your comment or concern, but also following up with that person in writing. A written summary of your concerns, the discussion which you had with the appropriate upper-level employee and the outcome or change in care you expect are all good things to write down. This way, if the concern is not addressed, you can again voice it or contact the Ombudsman. If the concern is addressed, you will be able to follow up with a "thank you" to the staff of the facility caring for your family member or loved one.