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For residents: Reclaiming the resident council

July 7, 2009
by ebarbera
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The final post in a three-part series

In the first two posts, I outlined why most resident council meetings fall short of their potential (Why most resident council meetings in nursing homes are a sham) and offered suggestions for nursing homes to improve them (How to run effective resident council meetings). Today's post is for the residents. Since most residents don't have Internet access, I hope readers will print out a copy and pass it along to people they think might be interested.

Of all those involved in nursing home life, you, as residents, are in the unique position of not having to worry about being written up, fired, or cited by the state. There are no jobs to attend, no chores to be done, and no bills to be paid. You have free time and experience that can be put to good use. As my Aunt Bevy used to remark, "Eleanor, I can say what I want—I'm an old lady!" You are free in many ways from the constraints that prevent others from taking action.

I know some people worry about retaliation for speaking up. As a psychologist, I'd suggest taking a moment to consider whether that might be a "left-over" feeling from childhood experiences in your family. In a nursing home, there are many people and agencies there to protect you and your rights. The changes I'm suggesting are beneficial for the nursing home, which can advertise a strong and effective Resident Council and point to improvements as a result. The changes generally don't cost much money, such as providing a computer, or they're free, such as adding a week to the meal rotation or bringing in Twelve-Step Meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, so there's not a big burden to the administration. And, as you'll see from my suggestions below, creating change takes teamwork, with a group of residents working together, rather than a single individual.

If you've ever attended a resident council meeting, thought they could be better, but weren't sure what to do, try these steps:

Step one: Find your peers. Every nursing home I've ever worked in has many bright, capable residents wishing there were other bright, capable residents to talk to. You are not alone. Recreational activities are a great place to scout for potentially like-minded individuals. Attend groups such as the trivia or news programs, note who the more alert residents are, and ask the recreation staff to seat you next to them. On your floor, take a roll (or a stroll) down the hall, looking for neighbors who might be interested in conversation. Keep an open mind—those who might look on the outside to be quite disabled may surprise you.

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In the first post of this series, I was offended in the second, I felt you were unrealistic and it irritated me in this post, I see clearly that you ARE the leader of the revoltion. All of your suggestions are excellent, not only for the purpose of revamping the the Resident Council, but for being more involved in the life of the facility in general. I would like to add that if a recreational activity is led properly, finding peers should be fairly easy. Goals of virtually all recreation groups should be to: 1. Facilitate interactions among residents (This helps in identifying peers.)
2. Foster a supportive peer environment(This encourages residents to help each other rather than rely on staff who go home after their shift.)

Perhaps your single most important suggestion is step two. It is my experience that many residents simply do not interact or socialize with each other enough. Making connections with one another is in itself beneficial.

The degree of effectiveness of the Resident Council may vary from facility to facility based on the overall resident population, but your ten steps to success have definitely planted the seeds for change.

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ebarbera

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