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Published Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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Is Your Aging Services Organization Doing Enough to Engage Residents’ Families?

Your aging services organization most likely celebrated Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day this year. Perhaps you hosted a Sunday brunch for residents and their family members, or invited grandchildren to a model airplane craft session. It is important, however, to engage your residents’ families on a regular basis, not only on family-oriented holidays.  

Poor communication and lack of understanding about expectations can create issues between a resident’s family and an aging services organization. Organizations that fail to involve the family in the care planning process and/or do not immediately contact them when an incident occurs will potentially become the subject of complaints – or even lawsuits. The repercussions of inadequate communication may intensify with respect to the sensitive nature of family concerns and dynamics regarding loved ones who are residents in your facility. Moreover, when simply visiting your community, the family’s experience directly affects your reputation and the family’s desire to provide referrals. 

To help your aging services organization better manage expectations, below are some recommendations on how to effectively and tactfully communicate with family members, as well as some constructive ideas to involve families throughout the year.  

Tips for Proactive Communication
 

  • Include family in care planning. In addition to enhancing communication and collaboration, family involvement will aid staff and providers in comprehending family dynamics.
      
  • Determine key treatment decisions in advance, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), feeding tubes, hospitalization and antibiotic use. Require physicians to engage in the informed consent process by discussing benefits, risk and burdens of these treatments as well as potential alternatives.  
      
  • Ask the family to designate one individual as the primary contact/spokesperson. This protocol can avoid confusion and discord later when critical decisions must be made.  
     
  • Identify expectations and determine whether or not they are realistic. Ask open-ended questions, actively listen and contemporaneously document responses.  
     
  • Discuss critical risks, such as falls and elopement, in advance. Ensure that family members are realistic about their loved one’s current and future needs.  
      
  • Report even minor adverse events to the family and/or decision maker. This approach strengthens trust and minimizes the likelihood of future surprises and misunderstandings. 
     
  • Stay active on your social media pages. Update followers on adjusted dining hall hours, announce special events and share pictures.  
     
  • Include frequently asked questions on your website. If you need help with creating web content and developing search engine optimization (SEO), a new LeadingAge member benefits can assist you in this process. (CNA is a LeadingAge preferred provider). 
      
  • Schedule regular open houses featuring tours, Q&A sessions and meet-and-greet opportunities with the staff. 
      

Ideas for Family Involvement 
 

  • Provide Wi-Fi, at least in your common areas, to allow children and grandchildren to share games and pictures. 
       
  • Extend coffee shop/bistro hours on the weekends, offering a place to visit while enjoying a treat.1
     
  • Reduce dining hall prices for children and offer a kids’ menu.  
     
  • Offer an outdoor playground to entertain younger children and bring residents outdoors if their health status permits.  
     
  • Does your facility have a pool? If so, consider designating Friday night as Family Swim Night. 
     
  • Set up an interactive game, such as Wii or Xbox Kinect, in a common area, with appropriate controls. The kids will love it, and it will get residents up and moving.  
     
  • Think creatively for holidays and special events. On Halloween: Encourage residents to trick or treat around the facility.  Or, for the Kentucky Derby:  Don their best hats and bring out the stick horses. 
     
  • Consider adding some family-friendly events throughout the year, i.e.,  mini concert, movie night. Share these photos, with authorization of those who are in attendance and photographed, on your social media page.
      

Your aging services community involves more than the people on site. Involving families is as important as providing quality care within your facility walls. Managing expectations of prospective and current residents and family members requires candid, thorough communication regarding available services, mutual obligations and costs.  

Taking the initiative to effectively communicate and provide opportunities for families to spend quality time with residents can build trust and help your organization avoid complaints and costly claims.
 

1 Differentiate Your Community by Embracing Family; Devins, Glynn. 2012, Aug. 24

One or more of the CNA companies provide the products and/or services described. The information is intended to present a general overview for illustrative purposes only. Read CNA’s General Disclaimer.
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One or more of the CNA companies provide the products and/or services described. The information is intended to present a general overview for illustrative purposes only. Read CNA’s General Disclaimer.
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