The Maryland Office on Aging, with strong backing from its director, Dr. Matthew Tayback, is beginning in cooperative effort with the Health Facilities Association of Maryland to promote family councils in nursing homes throughout the state.
Family councils, generaly comprised of relative of residents and representatives for residents who have no nearby relatives, act as liasion bodies between residents of the homes and the administrion.
"We have been looking for ways to achieve adequate quality of living standards on the local nursing home level, and have explored several alternatives. Family councils appear to be the answer to the problem," said Tayback in an article in the December issue of Outlook, a monthly bulletin of the state office on aging. "We would like to see councils established in every nursing home in Maryland to act as an advocate for the residents."
Health Facilities Association president John H. Seyle expressed "complete agreement that family councils can play an increasingly significant role in decision making process affecting the quality, quantity and delivery of services in nursing homes."
Malcolm Rodman, executive director of the association, said that it will work with an authority and author in the field of personnel relations and communication to develop plans for establishing family councils.
"For the council there would be an on-going educational process in the operation of nursing homes; and the knowledge that he or she is playing a more useful role in the operation of the home," Tayback's announcement in Outlook said. "For the administration, the family council can serve as a key took in as a built-in channel of direct feedback from the residents; and the nursing home staff benefits because increased participation of residents in decisions affecting their daily lives often results in more positive communication."
The idea of family councils is more than a theoretical notion. The Health Center at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg has had such a council for some time. The more independent units of the Village, the Methodist Home and the Apartment Program, have resident councils that participate in decision making.
A family council is distinguished from a resident council in that the former is composed of outside family members and the latter is made up of residents themselves. A family council is particularly suitable for the nursing home situation because these residents, almost by definition, are generally not fully able to take care of themselves. Even so, the Health Center has a resident council in addition to be a family council.
The Asbury Methodist Health Center family council, moderated by Muriel Nolen, meets quarterly, but more frequent meetings may be scheduled. The agenda for these meetings, according to Nolen, usually has two parts. First, some topic previously agreed upon is aired through an informal presentation and discussion. Topics considered include such concerns as dealing with possible guilt feelings for having placed a parent or grandparent in a nursing home, or how to communicate with a disoriented patient.
The second part of the agenda is a period for discussion of any concerns family members may have, and to share ideas on possible solution. While staff members are present, the idea sharing is often directly between council members, with the staff listening. Nolen believes that these sessions help family members feel less alone, and that helping one another of giving support carries over beneficially outside the scheduled meeting period.
As far as Nolen is concerned, the family council definitely belongs in the nursing home because it brings benefits to all concerned.Council members gain support from interaction with staff and other family members, and they also benefit from informative discussions scheduled for them. Patients can gain some comfort from knowing that their families care enough to come and take part in decision-making process that influence their well-being.
Nolen is convinced that council meetings help families understand what the staff is trying to do and thereby become a supportive force.
From the viewpoint of gerontological theory the family council is a sound idea that has the potential of bringing added security to nursing home patients. When the council serves to reassure patients that they are cared for and cared about, it serves to reinforce a sense of well-being.