Encouraging and supporting family involvement during the transition to assisted living can have a major impact on the quality of family-staff relationships for the duration of a resident’s stay. Here’s a look at some of the challenges that plague family-staff communications and how nursing directors can facilitate positive interactions that benefit everyone.

What Does Family Involvement Look Like in Assisted Living?

Before we dive into how assisted living leadership can improve communication, let’s take a moment to see where family-staff communication stands today. Reports compiled by the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman highlights two key problem areas.

First, the reports show that, of complaints received from long-term care communities, those about staff are among the top five (see Florida’s and Minnesota’s 2017 reports for examples). This suggests that there’s a disconnect between family expectations for staff and what they’re actually required to do.

For example, an engaged adult child may want her parent to receive more one-on-one attention from a CNA, when the reality is that the CNA has dozens of residents to care for in a day and simply doesn’t have the time.

Second, family members are the number-two source of these complaints, accounting for 29 percent. Only residents themselves are more likely to complain. That highlights just how engaged family members are in residents’ care.

Unfortunately, research shows that both family members and staff often consider staff-family communications to be tense or difficult. One staff member suggests that some of the disconnect may come from family members’ guilt at not being able to care for their loved one at home. Because of guilt, they’re hard on staff to show that they’re still invested in their loved ones’ wellbeing.

This is a valuable insight into the kinds of stressors and motivations that might affect family members’ interactions with community staff.

Bridging the Communication Gap for Positive Family Involvement

The challenge for community leaders, then, is to achieve three things:

  1. Ease any guilt family members might have about transitioning their loved one to assisted living or memory care.
  2. Facilitate family involvement via technology and ongoing communication.
  3. Communicate staff workloads to family members to set reasonable expectations about the kind of care a resident will receive.

Here’s what we recommend for each.

Highlight Positive EHR Outcomes to Ease Family Guilt

EHR adoption in assisted living communities has been slower than what it was in hospitals, in part because long-term care facilities didn’t have the same adoption incentives. The good news there is that, if your community uses an EHR, you can highlight that as a differentiator.

Research shows that EHRs in long-term care communities are associated with better decision-making at the managerial level because of better and more accessible documentation. Make sure family members understand that the information CNAs gather about residents every day is actually used to make decisions for the entire community.

Use Real-Time Activity Calendars and a Family Engagement Portal

EHR data that turns into decisions is great, but it’s a little abstract.

Make your community’s use of technology concrete by adopting an interactive activity calendar. The one Caremerge offers, for example, offers digital calendars family members can view. It also lets staff check residents in digitally so that family members can see in real time what their loved ones are up to.

It also lets staff upload photos of residents and communicate directly with family members through a family engagement portal. This enables a low-stakes, ongoing conversation between family and staff, which helps build up positive feelings on both sides. The day-to-day time investment is relatively small, but the payoff can be significant: family and staff get to know and trust each other, which makes for a better starting point when things go wrong.

Remember that Families Don’t Know Your World

Transitioning to assisted living is a big deal, for both the new resident and their family. Even if they’re not feeling guilt, they may be uncertain about the future, worried about their loved one’s health, or sad to see the family home go.

On top of all that, they’ve probably never dealt with assisted living before, so they have no idea what to expect.

That’s where being frank can ease future communications between family members and staff. Let them know what to expect from CNA interactions, what you offer by way of activities, and how they can reach you with questions or concerns. Often, anger and frustration arise more from feeling left in the dark or unable to connect with a human than from actual disappointment with the care being offered. Keeping lines of communication open can go a long way toward keeping everyone happy.

Family Involvement Is Easier with the Right Tech

Today’s seniors are more tech-savvy than ever, as are their families. When you equip your community with technology that makes it easy for staff to stay in touch with residents’ families, you make it easy for families to build relationships with caregivers and stay involved with their loved ones’ lives.

If you’re interested in boosting family involvement at your community, talk to us about our family engagement portal.

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