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How to run effective resident council meetings

June 24, 2009
by ebarbera
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The second of a three-part series. To come:

Part Three: For Residents: Reclaiming the Resident Council

Resident Council Meetings, as I discussed in my previous post, “Why Most Resident Council Meetings in Nursing Homes Are a Sham,” often can be improved to become a powerful tool for change in nursing homes. Giving residents a true voice within their nursing home community creates meaning and purpose in their lives and reduces depression and acting out behavior.

In the one nursing home I've observed with effective Resident Council Meetings, residents actively campaigned for positions on the Resident Council and were voted into office. Meetings were conducted by a charismatic and enthusiastic staff leader, and concerns were seriously considered and acted upon by the administration. The residents felt they had a place they could bring their ideas, and the entire nursing home was a dynamic, thriving environment.

For Resident Council Meetings like that, try these steps:

Step One. As part of the administration, decide how open you'll be to suggestions for change from the residents. Is the nursing home willing to consider, for example, how to offer computer access to residents, if they request it, or to bring 12-Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous into the facility? Or is the home more comfortable with smaller changes such as adding a week to the food rotation schedule to increase the variety of meals served? The group leader should be aware of how willing the administration is to work with the group in order to guide the meetings more effectively.

Step Two. Evaluate which person on staff would make the best group leader. A successful leader will be someone who is a strong resident advocate, has good rapport with both residents and other staff members, and either has the skill to run meetings or is willing to learn and practice.

Step Three. Recruit new group members. The staff leader and current resident attendees can, with the support of the facility, begin a community-wide campaign to "rehabilitate" the Resident Council Meetings. Speak privately with those residents who might be willing to attend improved meetings and get a commitment from them to give it a try. Ask them to talk to their friends in the home and then follow up with the friends. This process may take some time, so plan for the kick-off meeting to be a few months down the road, rather than the following month. Bring in many new, alert people at the same time, so the group is strong enough to encompass confused, off-topic, or quirky members.

Step Four. Educate the group members about how the meetings work, what types of issues can be addressed, and where other concerns can be brought. Spending group time discussing the process of the group is a worthwhile investment. For practical, rather than clinical, information on running groups, check out Robert's Rules of Order.

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Pennsylvania State Ombudsman is the first in the nation to start a PEER program. (P)ennsylvania (E)Empowers (E) xpert (P)eers. Expert because they are insiders, that know everything that is happening and are to shy or afraid of retaliation if they speak up. Residents that choose to be a PEER goes to 5 weeks of 2 hr. sessions to learn to have a voice, how to negotiate, how to partner with the staff, how to voice their concerns and get solution, how to solve problems and much more. After completing their sessions they graduate and earn a badge that gives them the title of PEER. They are educated to be leaders of Resident Council. They have a recording secretary who writes the minutes. All concerns are sent to the appropriate dept. head to write a plan of correction which is put into action and read at the next month's meeting. The plan of action is monitored by the residents at the council meeting and the PEERs. If it does not work the reason is reviewed to understand why not and another plan of correction is put into action. We have been doing Resident Council since Jan. 2009 and the PEERs have developed the above system. The PEERs also started a Food Comittee meeting with residents to address food concerns to the food manager. The recording secretary will write minutes of the meeting and the meetings and corrections will be addresed at then next council meeting...We are now seeking a staff member who is truly a leader can work with the PEERs and will ensure that all concerns are addressed and a plan of action is put into place then monitored for success.

I as the PEER trainer working with the PEERs and residents to make this program successful. It has taken persistence, but just today after the meeting a resident expressed that she is so happy for the help.

I am a Vol. Ombudsman and a vol.
PEER trainer and will be speaking to administration on the need for a staff leader as you describe above.

Joan, thanks for telling us about your inspiring program. It sounds like it would be beneficial not only for Resident Council Meetings, but also for encouraging residents to run other activities, from art classes to bible study groups. From what I read on the website, the Pennsylvania Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is willing to share their training information for those out of state who might be interested in initiating similar programs.

You can get contact information and read more about the PEERs project here.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD

My link didn't post, so I'll leave the url for the PEERs project instead:

http://www.papeers.org

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Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed...