Partners in Caregiving, Part I: Three Tips for Families Supporting Loved Ones in a Nursing Facility
Transitioning a family member to a skilled nursing facility can be an unexpected emotional challenge. Family members who were primary caregivers may feel relief, then guilt and grief, while the loved one may experience confusion, depression, and/or anxiety.
At The Nathaniel Witherell we understand this oftentimes difficult situation, which is why we make every effort for families to meet and establish a relationship with the medical staff caring for their loved one, become active members of the care team, and encourage them to get involved in life at the Witherell.
In order to help you to participate in your loved ones’ care, we’ve gathered this expert advice from our staff and volunteers:
1. Attend the Care Plan meetings.
This meeting takes place within two weeks of your loved one’s moving into the nursing facility—and at the Witherell, every quarter thereafter. Families are invited to participate in the Care Plan meeting, which clarifies how the resident will be cared for on a daily basis.
“This is also a great time for families to provide feedback to us,” says Lynn Bausch, director of nursing at the Witherell. “Every bit of information about the resident’s habits and preferences help us to make the experience a positive and fruitful one. We don’t want to whisk residents off to bed immediately after dinner if they like to watch late-night television, for example. We also like to know about their interests in music, gardening, art, and other kinds of activities—anything that will help us make their quality of life the best that it can be.”
Bausch notes that over the longer-term, the Care Plan meeting becomes a structured time to share concerns, understand treatments, and provide updates about the resident’s health and well-being.
2. Communicate with staff.
Justine Vaccaro, the Witherell’s director of social work, suggests that families get to know the staff, the daily routine, and the activities available to residents, and then ask questions. “The information they can provide to us about their loved one becomes a bridge from the resident’s previous life to the one they have now,” she explains.
“Maybe long-term care is not what they had intended for their relative,” she said, “and they may have anxiety about how their loved one is treated after a family visit. It’s understandable because they’ve handed over to us someone very precious to them. That’s why I have an ‘open door policy’ for meeting with families, and why I encourage them to get to know everyone on the care team. Once they know us, they quickly learn that we are like a family here, and can trust that we care for our residents like family.”
3. Join the Family Council.
Not unique to the Witherell, family councils serve as advocates for residents of skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. But there is something very special about our Family Council, and that is the leadership of Council president Gloria Guise. Ever since her mother became a Witherell resident five years ago, Gloria has risen daily at 4 a.m. to commute from her home in Greenwich to her full-time job in Queens, Long Island so that she can make it back to Greenwich in time for dinner hour at the Witherell. There, she takes notes, observing what the residents are (and are not) eating, who might seem in need of emotional support, or anything else.
Though her mother has passed away, she continues the work because she says it is rewarding and important. “I will let the chef know when an item isn’t popular, or stop by someone’s room to wheel them out to dinner,” says Guise. “I’ll notify a staff member when a resident needs to use the restroom and I’ll hug a family member who may be sad over a parent’s deteriorating condition. We on the Family Council see it as our role to be the voice of the residents and a liaison to their families. The staff and management always listen to our recommendations with respect.”
Membership on the Family Council is open to any family member of a resident at the Witherell.