Starting a New Chapter: How to Successfully Transition to Skilled Nursing

When a loved one moves from home to a skilled nursing facility, a new chapter begins. Like any change, navigating a successful transition takes time and effort. At The Nathaniel Witherell, helping ease those transitions is Justine Vaccaro, LMSW, who serves as our director of social work.

Just like the first day of school for your child, letting go of a parent’s hand can be hard. This is true even when the child has become an adult and their parent is the one going off on their own. “Families need reassurance that their loved one will be well cared for,” she says. “The transition period for our residents is about three months, but it can take up to six months for the family to really come to terms with the change.”

For some, the first time a parent refers to the new living arrangement as “home” it’s a wonderful sign that he/she has settled in. For others, this is difficult to hear.

“When a resident goes out to lunch and then says they’re ready to go ‘home,’ but are referring to the Witherell, that’s hard on some families,” Vaccaro notes. This is especially true for spouses who are now living apart. Vaccaro and her staff devote time to counseling residents, but she also spends just as much time with family members. “Much of that doesn’t even relate to the resident’s care,” she says. “It’s about helping the family realize that their loved one is really okay, and that although that parent’s life is different now, it is still joyful,” she says.

Here, Justine Vaccaro offers tips for making a successful transition to skilled nursing care, for both residents and their families:

  • Familiarity brings comfort: Keeping your loved one near home, or in a community-based facility, helps. Because the Witherell is town-owned, residents get the added comfort of living among former Greenwich neighbors, old friends, or colleagues.
  • Tap every resource: The recreation staff, chaplaincy department, and on-staff social workers are all there to get to know each resident individually. Meet with everyone and share what your loved one enjoys, hobbies especially. Keep in mind that prior interests like golfing and swimming are less feasible now. However, knowing that your loved one enjoys golf means that staff can make sure they get to enjoy tournaments on television.
  • Be a joiner: Specific interest groups—like bridge club, knitters circles, Bible study groups, or men’s groups—help residents make friends based on common interests. Encourage your loved one to seek these groups out, and key into the events calendar to identify opportunities.
  • Be realistic: If your loved one was always a loner, it’s unrealistic to expect a metamorphosis into a social butterfly now. At the Witherell, residents who are less social are encouraged to enjoy their solo activities in common areas, which increases socialization and prevents isolation. So, avid readers might enjoy their book in the sun filled library. Or, puzzle makers are encouraged to work on their latest challenge in the solarium as other events occur in close proximity.



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