Partners in Caregiving, Part II: Three More Tips for Families Supporting Loved Ones in a Nursing Facility
Nathaniel Witherell resident Cordella Shaw (second from left) listens to one of her favorite songs on an iPod as part of the Witherell's new Music & Memory program. She is pictured with the following Witherell staff members: Violet Johnson (left), certified nursing assistant; Gail Carone (second from right), recreation therapist; and Jayne Kennelly (right), nurse manager.

Partners in Caregiving, Part II: Three More Tips for Families Supporting Loved Ones in a Nursing Facility

As we discussed in our last blog, transitioning a family member to a skilled nursing facility can be an unexpected emotional challenge. Understanding this, the Nathaniel Witherell makes every effort to help families establish a relationship with the medical staff caring for their loved one, become active members of the care team, and get involved in life at the Witherell. In our second part of this series, we will provide additional advice to help you in participating in your loved ones’ care:

1. Volunteer at the nursing facility.

Volunteering time with the Family Council is one way to integrate with life at the Witherell, but there are other opportunities as well, according to Justine Vaccaro, the Witherell’s director of social work. She said when family members volunteer, they bring energy and feel more closely connected to the community. “The more they know the facility, the other residents, and the care providers, the better they feel about their loved one being there,” she said.

Volunteer opportunities are available to suit any interest and schedule. Some of the positions include assisting with art and music programs, escorting residents, assisting with pet therapy, staffing the beauty salon and gift shop, and visiting residents.

2. Get to know Greenwich Chaplaincy at the Witherell.

Greenwich Chaplaincy is a separate, nonprofit organization that provides pastoral and spiritual care to the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Town of Greenwich, according to Tony Correale, Lay Chaplain. Correale works closely with The Reverend Mike Gatliff, who oversees the program, which has been in place at the Witherell for over 40 years.

“Greenwich Chaplaincy provides services in the broadest sense to residents and their families,” said Correale. “We offer religious care and emotional support, and conduct literature groups and Bible Study. But we often just listen. We support families who might be relieved of the burden of being primary caregivers but worried about whether they made the right choice. Because we are not part of the medical team, we often have the time to give undivided attention to a family’s spiritual and emotional needs.

Correale said they arrange to meet with families either at the Witherell or by phone. Most of their work is one-on-one. “We are here to provide spiritual care and support, and we are here to be with people and address some of their needs, whatever those needs might be.”

3. Visit your loved one.

Family involvement is critical to a resident’s well-being, and visits are an important component, according to Lynn Bausch, director of nursing at the Witherell.

“Some residents acclimate with our activities and meals right away, but others need additional social involvement from their families until they have more of a comfort level,” she says. “Visitors are always appreciated because it helps residents maintain a connection to their prior life.”

Just how that visit is structured is varied, and up to the individuals involved. “Some families drop in when they can, others come every day for lunch and supper,” Bausch says. “Routine visits at specific times of the day, when your family member feels more energetic and social, may work better than others.” She suggests that you find out when your family member is in therapy or needs to have down time, and time your visits accordingly. Think about what your loved one most enjoys—like listening to music, playing board games, watching sports, sharing photos from their past, or taking a walk, so you can engage them in those activities.

According to Bausch, “It’s wonderful when family members get to know their loved one’s routines, and our staff and other residents. When that happens, they quickly become part of the family at The Nathaniel Witherell!”


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