We’ve written before about how engaging your residents’ families can lead to positive health and financial outcomes for your community. But family engagement means different things to different people. Boasting to potential residents that your staff has excellent family engagement resources or talking up your EHR’s engagement capabilities to existing families could set you up for confusion or disappointment unless you’re clear about what they can expect.

Here are some guidelines on how to manage the expectations of your residents’ family members around interacting with your staff and their loved ones.

Family Engagement Topics to Discuss

While it’s best to start the expectations management process before a resident joins your community, the reality is that sometimes conversations happen well into a resident’s stay. Whether you’re talking to the families of prospective or longtime residents, it’s helpful to cover the following topics:

    1. When and how they’ll hear from you. This is a big one. The last thing you want for your community is the reputation that you only contact families when something goes wrong. And on a practical level, it’s hard to build trust when you only ever call with bad news. So make it clear from day one how often they can expect to hear from your community. Tip: if your staff isn’t in the habit of reaching out to residents’ families to check in (and we get it – that’s a lot to ask of a busy staff), consider implementing a family engagement portal solution. The one we offer sends automatic updates to residents’ family members as your staff takes attendance at events throughout the day. This lets them know what their loved ones are up to – without your staff having to do any extra work.
    2. When and how to contact you. Even when they’re receiving regular updates, family members may need to get in touch to ask about a change in condition, side effects from a new medication, or taking their loved one to a family party. Let family members know which contact methods you and your staff prefer and what they can expect from various methods. For example, if your staff is rarely able to answer the phone but is quick about replying to emails, make that clear. Family members who know how to proceed when they need your attention will feel less frustrated and therefore happier overall, which makes life easier for everyone.
    3. What to expect during a visit. In most cases, assisted living and memory care residents welcome family visits. To make these visits go as well as possible, talk to family members about the best times for the residents and your staff. For example, meal times may be hectic, but evenings quieter and better for company. Or maybe you can share bathing and medication distribution schedules with family members, so they can show up after their loved one is clean and ready to see visitors. It’s also wise to mention that your staff is busy and may not be able to engage in small talk, especially during certain parts of the day. Finally, be sure to let family members know how they can assist their loved ones while they’re visiting – bringing outside food or additional clothing, doing light chores, and even helping them with their personal care.
    4. When to talk to you after a visit. Most visits will be uneventful. But if a family member notices a change, you’ll want them to let your staff know. Family members know residents better than nursing staff, so they’re often better able to detect subtle signs that could be the early symptoms of illness or another change in condition. Encourage family members to engage with your staff by asking them to share observations with you and taking necessary action when they do. This helps build trust and gives your staff an edge on catching any potential problems in the early stages, which can improve health outcomes for your residents.
    5. How soon to visit. In some cases, particularly in memory care units, there’s a recommendation that family members let their loved ones settle in for a certain period before they visit. This period is generally intended to help the resident get acclimated to their new environment with minimal reminders of their former home, especially if they were conflicted about leaving it. If your community has any guidelines about how soon to visit a new resident, be sure to communicate these clearly with family members. Be ready, too, for pushback. In some circles, there’s still a stigma around “being left in a home,” so family members may be insistent about visiting often, especially in the early days.

How to Keep Family Members Engaged

The good news is that simply having these conversations with your residents’ family members will go a long way toward building engagement. The more informed they are about the way your community operates, the more invested they’re likely to be in helping you ensure positive outcomes for their loved ones.

And make sure that your staff understands that family engagement is a priority. Those who aren’t naturally outgoing may need a nudge to engage with visitors (when they’re not too busy). Encourage this behavior by helping them see the bigger picture of how every interaction with someone from your community contributes to a family member’s overall trust.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our Family Engagement platform can make it easier for your staff to keep residents’ families engaged (without spending hours each day on the phone), request a demo. We’d love to show you how other communities are using our solutions to keep their residents’ families in the loop.

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