Getting the Most Out of Long Term Care Facilities

By Jacquelyn Miner, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2018

In the clinic, we often hear from clients who know that they are facing the impending “doom” of being placed in a nursing facility for care. This seems like an ill fate for many reasons including the loss of autonomy, concerns about the quality of care, and of course, the financial cost. With this jumbled sense of fear, often the benefits of nursing facilities are unrealized or disregarded.

Nursing facilities provide numerous benefits including, but not limited to, 24hour/7days a week care, social opportunities, activities, and dietary services that are designed for specific patient needs and likes.

Prior to starting law school, I was fortunate enough to work in two wonderful skilled nursing facilities. I started as an Admissions Assistant and later became the Activities Director. In this role, I saw how hard nursing facilities work and how deeply the staff cares for each and every resident. I knew that myself, and every department head, were familiar with every patient and knew their exact and unique needs relative to the department. But, I also learned how quickly or how easy things could take a bad turn if people were careless or apathetic.

As a patient or family member, there are small actions you can take to protect yourself, your piece of mind, and ensure that you are reaping all of the benefits facilities may offer.

  1. Participate in Care Plans – Facilities funded by, or accepting, Medicare and Medicaid are required to provide interdisciplinary care plans that are reviewed and updated at least These care plans address every need of the patient – nursing, dietary, psychosocial well-being, and therapy (if applicable). With the reviews, the facilities are required to have a care plan meeting at least annually where the patient and family are invited to attend.

These meetings provide detailed reports about the well-being of the resident and provide the family and resident an opportunity to add their opinions or responses to that plan, and then changes are made accordingly. If you do not participate, then you are throwing away an invaluable opportunity to take control of our own or your loved one’s care.

  1. Have conversations and interact with the staff – Every facility is equipped with an interdisciplinary staff. Regularly reach out to the department heads and ask questions. Learn what they do, and can do, for you. Talk to the nurses and CNAs who care for your loved ones. They spend so much time with your family members and can provide updates on their well-being. Be familiar with the staff so that they are familiar with you and more constantly thinking about you and your needs specifically.

If you have a problem, let the staff know. They want to help you, but they often are not made aware of issues that are affecting you, directly or indirectly.

  1. If you are family – Visit (Not just at the holidays) – As an Activities Director, I worked hard to ensure that every patient had social contact or activities every day. Although the staff and residents ultimately became one big family, it did not eliminate the need or desire for “blood” family contact. Additionally, the more the family is willing to visit and get involved with activities, residents are more willing to regularly leave their rooms and participate. Leaving the room and getting active is a great way to stay sharp, healthy, and improve your attitude.

Overall, the most important thing you can do for yourself, or loved one is to be present and active. Both you and the facility will benefit from a healthy working relationship and can eliminate the sense of “doom.” Being an active participant in your own care will allow you to retain autonomy and ensure that the quality of care is meeting your standards and is personalized to your needs.