The holiday season is a time when family members are more likely than usual to visit their loved ones in long-term care facilities. Out-of-town relatives may be making their annual visit, or grandchildren off from school might be stopping by to see Grandma or Grandpa. Now’s your chance to roll out the red carpet and show families what nursing homes are really about—caring treatment of their loved ones, an engaged staff that considers family members part of the team and good customer service. Where to start taking advantage of this opportunity to shine? At the front desk…
1. Encourage staff to provide an extra-warm holiday welcome.
LTC staff members are used to the hustle, buzzers, equipment and jargon of facility life, but the environment can be jarring to occasional visitors. Counteract their expectations of a sterile setting by offering a cheerful hello from a holiday-themed lobby, providing directions to their loved ones that show personal knowledge of the resident (“Your aunt is probably at lunch on the first floor right now so you might want to check there before you go to her room.”) and suggesting guests have a look at the visitor’s information provided by the facility. This material can be displayed as informally as a stack of newsletters on the counter, or with the fanfare of a labeled magazine rack filled with the elements outlined below and complete with resident greeter.
2. Reach out to family members through the facility newsletter.
Have relatives sign up to receive the missive so they can be informed of events and happenings all year round—and create a facility newsletter if you haven’t already done so. It’s easy and inexpensive to offer an electronic version, so now is the time to capture those email addresses and save on printing and mailing costs. Deliver helpful information and news consistent with the mission of your facility at a realistic frequency that can be maintained by your staff. It’s much better to offer a quarterly or semi-annual publication that can be delivered regularly than to commit to a monthly contact and not be able to follow through.
3. Offer tips for families to make the most of their visits.
For example, many family members have no idea how to talk to residents with dementia, asking questions their loved ones can no longer answer and leading to a sad, frustrating and demoralizing experience for everyone. Inexperienced guests might offer water to residents with swallowing difficulties or leave the television blaring and the hearing aid in the dresser while trying to talk to Grandma. By providing the information families need to make their interactions a success, you’re likely to increase the frequency of their visits and their view of your establishment as a helpful place committed to high quality care.
4. Offer gift ideas for family members so their presents are appropriate and welcome.
For example, visitors may need help “translating” dietary restrictions into suitable food offerings like diabetic chocolates rather than fruitcake, or pureed soup rather than popcorn for someone with swallowing difficulties. Family members will appreciate suggestions that make their loved ones lives easier and more pleasant in their absence such as a quilt that provides a warm memory and a homey touch, copies of family photos to brighten a room or clothes that can withstand industrial washing machines.
5. Provide information to make off-campus visits a success.
Uninitiated visitors may think they can stop by to pick up Mom or Dad on the spur of the moment on Christmas Eve and bring them back to their home. Inform family members in advance of the holidays of the policies and procedures of the facility so families can arrange for a home pass. Are there medications that need to be administered, symptoms family members should be aware of, transportation that needs arranging or papers that need to be signed? Creating a checklist will make the process easier for everyone and reduce the anxiety of nervous family members.
6. Suggest alternatives to a home pass if a visit isn’t possible.
Families may be reluctant to let their loved ones know they can’t manage them at home for the holidays; residents may not want to put their family members on the spot by asking. As service providers, we can help facilitate these difficult conversations by offering alternatives to what may be long-time family rituals. Make family members aware that there are many other options if bringing Mom or Dad home isn’t feasible this year. A wheelchair accessible restaurant, bringing food into the facility or setting up a time to gather before or after a busy holiday can create pleasant new rituals that account for changing abilities and circumstances.
7. Set up a Skype call center.
A laptop, Internet access, a free Skype account and a private corner are all that’s needed to offer an amenity sure to please residents and families alike. Visitors can help their loved ones video chat with distant family members they might never have the chance to see again. The cost of the setup—virtually nothing. Watching octogenarian sisters talk face-to-face from across the globe—priceless! (For special bonus points, make this service available to staff members on their off-hours and watch morale skyrocket.)