It Takes a Village
Resident councils can make the difference between an institution and a true home
Just last week, our nursing home residents’ council elected a new president and vice president. I made a point to congratulate the new president, Denise Young, as well as the new vice president, Welldon McCall.
Now, I have no influence over who gets elected, but I thought Denise and Welldon were great choices for leaders.
Denise spent most of her life before moving into Arbor Village working in long term care and home health care. She was both a certified nurse aide and a certified home health aide. I asked her if she thought those life experiences were helping her in her role as president of the resident’s council. “Oh, yes,” she said immediately. “I have a lot of experience with patients and doing for others, and making sure they have their needs met.”
I can’t think of a better background for being president of the resident’s council.
For those of you who don’t know, Arbor Village has a council, an advisory board, made up of twenty or so residents, all of them elected by their peers, although, unlike national or state elections, nobody campaigns. Their peers elect them purely based on who, in their estimation, will do the best job in making sure their voices are heard. The council meetings are facilitated by Arbor Village’s social worker.
Arbor Village didn’t dream up this idea; a number of other nursing homes also have them, but Arbor Village saw immediately how important a source of feedback on quality improvement such a council could be.
This council meets regularly to discuss things they think could be improved in Arbor Village. In between meetings they keep their ears open for any resident complaints or distress and a critical eye peeled or for anything that strikes them as less than ideal. They bring those observations to their meetings, thoroughly discuss them, and provide the administration with a list of problems and, often, ideas for how to fix them.
I asked Denise what a typical resident council meeting is like. “We sit in the kitchen,” she told me, “and we discuss things like the kitchen, the food, what we’d like to see and what we don’t care to see. We discuss the staff, we discuss the nursing facility itself and its cleanliness. We cover about everything, and everybody has their input.” They go around the table, eliciting each member’s thoughts on everything from activities to laundry, and although with twenty or more council members that can take a while, they don’t mind. They’re proud of what they do, and they intend to do it to the best of their ability.
Once the council comes up with their recommendations, we discuss their issues in a staff meeting and find ways to put them into practice.
Just since September, when Denise was first elected a councilmember, the council has made enormous strides in improving residents’ quality of life. “The food greatly improved, the menu improved, staff and housekeeping greatly improved. So [administration] is keeping up with what our wishes are,” she said. To make sure the council stays focused on residents’ concerns, Denise has started regularly making the rounds of residents’ rooms, “asking if they have any requests or problems or even compliments for staff, and then we implement” needed changes.
Denise considers the council extremely valuable, “because without our say, it would just be like any other nursing home,” with things done in the way most comfortable and convenient for staff and administration rather than for the residents. “Here, the residents come first,” she said.
In fact, Denise recommends that anyone looking for a nursing home for a loved one make sure that the home has a resident council. “Definitely,” she said. “In fact, I highly recommend this” nursing home, she added, smiling.
Denise has some advice for residents of other nursing homes who would like a resident council of their own. First, she says, “you have to have a willing administration, because a lot of them are into their own way. But if you can get enough residents together to vote on having a resident council you might make some headway.”
It saddens me to think that residents at some nursing homes don’t have a say in how their care is provided or how things are done in what is, after all, their home. To me, having such a voice is the embodiment of what nursing homes are all about: residents’ health, well-being, and happiness.
Arbor Village provides long term care and rehabilitation at 310 West Taft in Sapulpa.