Let’s face it, placing your mom, dad, or a grandparent in a nursing home is difficult. How do we find the right one? Will they be treated well? Are they going to be taken care of? The questions, and doubts are endless.
Sadly, all we hear about nursing homes are the horror stories. Like just nearly everything else in life, the bad stories we hear are often much fewer than the positive work that is actually going on in most of these facilities.
Still, the decision to put a loved on in a “home” is difficult. Here are 5 tips to ensure that your parents get the best long term care possible.
Keep it local
I worked for 20 years in a hospital in central Florida. This meant that I took care of a lot of patients from long term care facilities. In that time there was one factor that seemed to make a bigger difference than just about any other. That was whether or not the family was local.
I truly believe that most staff and most long term care facilities want to give great care. I also know that staffing is short and demands are high. It is simply human nature that employees or team members tend to do, not so much what we expect, but what we INSPECT.
The result of this in long term care facilities is that the patients with local family tend to get better care, because the family could visit at any time. If the only family is hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away then the chances of them dropping in are pretty slim. So, you focus a little more on the ones with local family, just in case they drop in.
I know it can be hard to convince your parent, grandparent, or other loved one to move. Having been a nurse in Florida for my entire career, many of the elderly patients I have cared for moved here from somewhere else. Many of these folks don’t want to move back. Even when it comes time to look into a nursing home or assisted living facility, they just don’t want to leave.
For many, the move to a long-term care facility represents a loss of independence and freedom. This is made even worse if they are also FORCED to move back up north, when they don’t want to. While I understand this, the value of having them close to family during this time is greater than I can express. Do whatever you have to do to convince them to move close, and then to get them there.
Now that you’ve determined to keep your loved one local, the next step is to visit often. Much of the advantage of keeping them local will be wiped out if visit only seldom. Trust me, the staff will quickly learn which families are going to visit often and which ones will not. Sadly, due to simple human nature, the patients who have regular visitors will get better care. You want your loved on to be the one getting that little extra attention, the better care. In order to help guarantee this, you have to visit often.
Visiting often is the NUMBER ONE thing that you can do to help ensure that your loved one is well cared for. This isn’t a guess. This comes from 20 years of working in a local emergency room and seeing the patients that came in from local long-term care facilities. In case after case, the patients that had more frequent visitors came into the ER in better shape.
I know we are all very busy, but if you want your loved one to get the best care possible in a long-term care facility, you HAVE to visit often.
Visit at different times
As important as visiting often is, you also have to be a bit spontaneous about it. You see, if you visit at the same time on the same day every week, the staff will quickly pick up on that. They will then pour extra effort into making sure mom is ready for that visit, but might not give her that same level of care the rest of the time.
The only way to combat this is to vary your visit habits. I’m not saying you can’t have a regular time to visit. If you want to have coffee with with mom or dad every Tuesday at 8:00, then do that. In fact the regularity of such visits will probably be great for your loved on. However, in addition to that, drop in once or twice a week at odd times. If the staff knows that you are apt to drop in at any moment, then your loved one will get a little more attention than they might otherwise.
I have worked with the public as long as I have been working. My first jobs were in grocery and department stores. As an adult I’ve always worked in healthcare. For some reason many people seem to think that it is ok to treat the people serving them badly. If you don’t believe this, talk to any ER nurse or anyone who has ever worked as a server in a restaurant. I could, personally, tell you many such stories from my career.
While some people may not believe it, or certainly don’t act as if they do, it is the natural tendency of people to treat the people who are nice to us better. This is true in any industry where one person is serving another. If you want your loved one to get the best possible care, be nice to the staff. I’m certainly not saying that, if you’re not nice, that the staff are going to take it out on your loved one. But, if you are nice, they will be more inclined to give great care.
Should it be this way? Perhaps not. Many would probably say that the staff should give great care regardless. While in a perfect world this is probably true, the reality is that the staff are human and how you treat them matters. How you treat the staff will affect how they treat your loved one.
Learn their names
If you are visiting often, you will naturally learn the names of some of the staff. That’s just going to happen. However, you can learn the names of people without building a relationship. Remember that the people caring for your loved one are people. Go beyond simply learning their names. Get to know them a little. Build relationships with them.
Building relationships with them does a couple of things. It makes them people in your mind. This may sound strange. You might be thinking, “Of course they’re people.” But, the truth is that we have a tendency to place labels on people. If we don’t take care to avoid it, then our tendency is then to define people by those labels.
Consider this. Suppose you are visiting the facility and have a question for a specific staff member who was just with your loved one. Suppose you went to the desk looking for this staff person and asked in the following ways:
- “I’m looking for that girl in the blue scrubs. You know the one with the pretty hair.”
- “Can you tell me where I can find Melissa. You know the one with those two precious little daughters?”
Question number one seems innocent enough. Except that it doesn’t express an understanding of this staff person as a PERSON. While I know that no disrespect is intended by calling her a “girl”, the fact is if she is working in this sort of facility, she is a woman. Blue scrubs again don’t define her as a person, but simply describe what she is wearing. Finally, she may have pretty hair, but this shouldn’t be what defines her.
Question number two demonstrates an understanding of Melissa as a person. There is great power in a name. When you call somebody by name, it’s nearly impossible not to see them as a person. It’s hard to devalue someone when you call them by name. Not impossible, but much harder.
When you call somebody by their name you communicate to them that they have value. You tell someone that they matter, that they are important when you bother to learn their name. Many of the people that visit that long-term care facility will never bother to learn the names of the staff. Just the simple act of learning their name will earn you much favor in their eyes. This will be reflected in the care they give your loved one.
I’ve gotten really good as learning and remembering people’s names. If you’re interested in learning how I do this, let me know in the comments below.
Go beyond names
Learning the names of even just a few of the staff that work with your loved one is HUGE. Still it’s not enough. I’m not saying you have to take them out to dinner, or spend a weekend in a lodge somewhere getting to know them. But, talk with them. Ask them about their families. Ask them about the dreams. Ask them about their hobbies. Learn a little bit about their lives. Trust me, most people will never take the time to ask the CNA that cares for you mother about herself. Doing so will not only help to build a relationship with that person, it will also build them up a bit and who couldn’t use a little building up every now and then.
If you want to go the next step, bring or send them gifts. The impact of a box of donuts, or chocolates is HUGE. People working in healthcare are often grossly under appreciated. This is even more true in long-term care facilities. Show them that at least YOU appreciate them.
Remember they are good people with a hard job
It’s an unfortunate truth that the vast majority of healthcare facilities are understaffed. This is true of just about every environment in healthcare, from hospitals to long-term facilities. For the staff in a long-term care facility the job is hard and the work is difficult. Being understaffed just multiplies these difficulties.
Some of the things I have said here may seem to communicate that I am somehow against long-term facilities, or have something against the staff working in them. This is far from the truth. I do believe that there is much that could be done to improve the care given in many of these facilities. However, I also believe that in many cases the staff are doing the best they can when the resources that have been provided for them.
Remember that the people working with your loved one are people. Not only are they people, but in most cases, they are good people trying to do their best in a difficult and often thankless job. Remember this on the days when things don’t seem to be going as you would like, or expect them to go.