The final segment in an ongoing, four-part PBS/Frontline “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” examined residents in assisted living communities around the country, questioning whether the communities are equipped to provide the care needed.
In light of the coverage, my friend, Brandi Kurtyka, CEO of myCNAjobs, and I decided to publicly extend a voice of confidence to families considering care for a loved one within assisted living. From my perspective, there’s no question that lack of training and understaffing has been an issue for many senior care communities from nursing homes to assisted living. However, families need to know that many assisted living communities are dedicated to building and maintaining a quality team of caregivers.
With more than three quarters of a million individuals choosing assisted living across the United States, more communities are taking note and implementing increasingly rigorous caregiver hiring standards, onboarding, caregiver training and ongoing mentorship.
“Both Sharon and I have seen an increased awareness and more importantly - action plans - being implemented to go above and beyond state compliance requirements,” says Brandi. “Although the industry is plagued with stories like the recent PBS episode, it’s refreshing to see many communities going above the call of duty.”
Families are encouraged to do deep due diligence when evaluating assisted living.
Brandi and I both recommend families always ask about training. We suggest that you ask how they train the caregiving team and if they offer training that exceeds the state requirements.
Often, state requirements simply cover the basics of care. An organization that is dedicated to building a quality team of caregivers will offer additional training opportunities using engaging online courses and certification programs.
Ask if caregivers are certified as CNAs, home health aides or personal care aides. In memory care units, ask about Dementia Care certification or advanced level training. Certification may not be required but does offer evidence of the company’s commitment to quality training and the quality care it yields.
One of my favorite roles in working with family caregivers is just listening as they offer each other advice. I’ve spent so much of my professional life in the advice-giving role that’s its fascinating for me to sit back and listen as one family caregiver offers advice to others.
It’s particularly interesting to me when a family caregiver starts talking about when to get help from an agency or when to seek facility placement. After over 20 years working hard to get the attention of family caregivers from the provider perspective, it feels a little like “insider information” when families voluntarily share what drives them to seek care.
Lately, I’ve had the chance to eavesdrop like this a lot, as I not only facilitate a very large, vocal family support group for my community hospital, but I am also on the development team of a brand new national support project for family caregivers called Caregiver Village. It’s exciting and rewarding to be involved in working with families in this way.
At the same time, in my role as President and CEO of aQuire Training Solutions, I though perhaps it might be helpful if I passed along some of my recent observations so that you better understand what your prospective customers are looking for.
It’s about the health of the caregiver. “Caregiving will kill you if you don’t get help.” It’s tough for you to say these words directly, but caregivers say it to each other all the time. Share the statistics that caregivers face the risk of dying sooner than the person in their care. Caregivers also face a higher risk of stroke, depression and other chronic conditions – unless they get help.
Guilt doesn’t need to be a barrier. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all feel guilty. Trust me, you’ll get over it.” The key message you can give is that guilt is normal and natural – but that once you see how much your own life improves, not to mention the life of your loved one, you’ll find that the guilt isn’t nearly as tough as you anticipate it to be.
It’s better on the team. “I want to learn about caregiving, too.” It’s not enough for family caregivers to call in the expert (you) and leave you to do your work. Most family caregivers want relief from the tasks, but they want to feel like they’re a vital part of the team. They want to learn about caregiving (and respond much more positively than I anticipated to our online family caregiving courses)
You’re not alone. “I thought I was an awful person, but I knew I needed to do something. Now, I’m really, really happy I made this choice.” Families using your service will likely say these words or something similar. Introduce prospects to existing families, or pay special attention so you can share their stories. While you can’t likely give a first person testimonial, you can certainly say, “I was talking with one of our clients’ daughters just last week. She told me how hard the decision was, but how happy she is now that she’s made it.”
We’ll listen to your concerns. The biggest complaint I hear about facility or agency care from families is that the managers don’t listen. Managers, typically on the very local level, brush off their concerns, don’t have the time to talk with them or treat them as “outsiders” who no longer have any input into their loved ones’ care. Second biggest complaint? It’s not the food – it’s the turnover. Anything you do to stabilize your caregiving team will win you big points among family members. Many see the direct caregivers as extensions of their own family, especially now that they’re caring for a very special loved one. Losing those caregivers to a continual churn will cost you BIG points among your family members…and they talk. Boy, do they talk.
Who should I trust? It’s impossible for family members to determine who to trust based on a tour or a conversation with a marketing/sales rep. They’re going to ask around – count on it. Your current clients’ family members are either very important contributors to your marketing efforts, or they’re dragging you down. They’re very likely NOT neutral.
Keeping your ears to the ground and really understand your prospect will help you score big wins, especially in a tight, competitive market. Hope this helps!
Many years ago I was an avid follower of Dr. James Dobson’s radio show titled “Focus on the Family.” I was raising my three daughters and Dr. Dobson’s broadcasts about building self-esteem while teaching responsibility and morality was welcome information.
As happens in life, time changes our perspectives and our priorities. Dr. Dobson’s show became more focused on political issues, and now is run by someone else entirely; my daughters grew up and no longer needed the same kind of mothering.
But today, when I look at what is happening in elder care in our country, I think back to those days and realize that we need a little more “focus on the family” in elder care.
Families are becoming increasingly educated about their options for care. Many of them need your services, but don’t want to be “pushed out” of their role as caregivers in the process. They want – and NEED – to feel like they’re still very much a part of the caregiving team.
At the same time, whether you manage a residential care setting or an in-home care delivery service, your marketing efforts MUST speak to the family. They have to feel confident that you’ll provide the care you say you will, and you’ll do it in a way that respects them. Regardless of what you ultimately deliver to the client, in all likelihood, the FAMILY must be sold on your services before you ever get to the client.
I have the privilege of facilitating an Alzheimer’s family support group for our local community hospital. Frequently, members come to the group to share decisions they’ve made to find facility placement for their loved one, or to find care services to come to the home. As a life-long provider and former facility owner/operator, I listen with great interest as group members try to convince others in the group to seek care, or when someone shares their feelings about the care their family member is receiving.
I hear stories about outstanding care – and an immediate interest in the group of learning where this is happening.
I hear stories about no longer being considered a caregiver, or at least being now “second string” in the caregiving department.
Overall, what I hear is that families are desperately in need of validation. They need to hear the words, “you’re important to this team.” They need to be listened to and valued by the care provider. When this happens, they become strong, vocal and repeat advocates, telling many others about the care they’ve received.
Clearly, what’s needed is a pervasive value that comes through all levels of an organization, and that recognizes the family as a key component to the whole unit of care.
A few good tools don’t hurt, either. We can help with one new tool – take a look at it here: aQuire Family Learning Center (username: demo - password: spring2011). It’s a tool that can help you put action behind your words, by offering families free online training, courtesy of your organization. If you’re a facility care provider, add the “Transitions to Care” course so that families can better understand the transition process, and how to stay an active part of the team of care.
In elder care today, focusing on the family is not just good for risk management and marketing, it’s absolutely essential for long term growth and survival.
Are you looking for a way to connect with family caregivers in your community? Join Caregiver Village, a website that will be an entirely new sort of gathering place for family caregivers. Our team at aQuire has been busy working with the developers out of NYC, preparing an exciting support place for caregivers. Visit the site, register with your facebook login, and join as an Ambassador, qualifying you for a free year of membership. As the site grows, you’ll have a front row seat to connect with families who are looking for tips, suggestions and services to help them in their caregiving role.
If you’d like even more involvement, consider these options:
1) Host a virtual book club discussion group. Caregiver Village has opening for Hosts for groups organized around topics of interest like Parkinson’s Care, Autism Care and more. If you’re passionate about a topic and would like to facilitate a virtual discussion, contact Sharon.
2) Consider a special offer for Caregiver Village members. Can you offer free in-home assessments? Two hours of respite care at home? A day of respite in a facility? Remember, this is an outreach opportunity to a potential million plus family caregivers, so get creative! Send your ideas to Sharon.
When I first started writing this blog called “Frontline Focus” I got some negative feedback on the title.
“We don’t want to talk about caregivers as if they’re in a war,” one person wrote me. “Calling it the ‘Frontline’ makes it sound like a war zone.”
Someone else commented on how caregivers and care-related professionals should never be thought of as the “Frontline” – for a whole number of reasons.
Today, though, when I think of the typical caregiver, working hard in a care community or in the homes of their clients, and then going to their own homes (or a second job) and putting in even more hours of work, I think of them as very much being on the “Frontline.”
They’re on the frontline battling the effects of age, infirmity and, in many cases, loneliness and isolation.
They’re on the frontline of a life’s traveler whose end is imminent – and who may or may not feel ready.
In many cases, they’re on the frontline of a battle in their own lives: a battle to keep warm, well fed and fueled during a time when the economy continues to wear on so very many families.
As leaders, we need to take a minute during the holiday and recognize the hard work that our employees do for us – and for our clients. We need to honor those on the frontlines in our business and in life, every single day.
We can honor them with a little special gift or just a warm, heartfelt word of appreciation. Either way, supporting those serving on the frontlines in the battle for quality care for our elders is a valuable, meaningful thing – in this season and every other day of the year.
May you, your employees and your family truly experience Christmas joy this holiday season,
You probably have heard by now that this month (November) is National Family Caregiver Month. You also are very likely keenly aware of the work that family members do in providing care to the individuals who are now – or will one day become – your clients.
It’s a good month to think about what you do, as an organization, to reach out to family caregivers.
Some of you are going to great lengths to communicate your commitment to helping family caregivers. Synergy Homecare, one of our corporate clients, has launched a program called Arms Around Family Caregivers. It’s a great, heartfelt program designed to support family caregivers. At the end of the month, Synergy plans to announce a “Pillar of Strength” Award to a family caregiver, along with 40 hours of respite care at no cost to the winner.
Is your organization doing something unique and innovative this month? Share it, if you are. We’ll put it on our Facebook page and pass the word along about your important work.
If you not, give it some thought. It doesn’t need to be much. Just a little bit of extra effort can mean a lot to family members. Here are a couple of ideas to get your own creative processes going:
Hold a “Family Appreciation” dinner, reception or lunch. Minimal planning and expense can give you an opportunity to build relationships with your client and prospective client families.
Write a story about the families you serve. Send it to your local paper; post it on your website or blog. Send it to me- I’ll post it and add it to our facebook page.
Offer a support and training group. Use our family caregiver courses and give families an opportunity to discuss what they’ve learned and what they need to better understand about their loved ones needs, or their own needs as caregivers.
Consider contributing a service or some goods to support a family caregiver. Would you be willing to give away an hour or two of your services to family caregivers? Do you have a product that you could offer free of charge? Let me know – we’ll post it on our up-coming national family caregiver website, giving you exposure and recognition for your willingness to support family caregivers.
Family caregivers, whether doing hands’ on care or supporting others in caring, are often exhausted, over-stressed and battling a wide range of emotions. If each of us takes just one small action to support their vital work, we can make a whole world of difference.
If you’re one of the thousands who actually ready my e-newsletters, you may be one of the handful who have wondered where they’d gone in the past several weeks.
Well, let me tell you – we’ve been busy! Here’s just a little of our internal gossip – followed by an exciting and one-of-a-kind marketing opportunity for you.
We moved! We had outgrown our old office some time ago, but continued to work two to an office. Not very comfortably, mind you, but sometimes you just do what you have to do. When we found an opportunity to move to a big, new space for just a little more rent (to the other end of the block, across the street), we jumped on it! Since we moved last month, we’ve added three more team members, increasing courses and our client services programs significantly. It’s a testament to the importance of what we’re doing together in training new caregivers that we’re growing, even during an economy that’s got so many businesses in basic survival mode. If you’re ever in the historic downtown Oregon City (the oldest city in the state of Oregon), please stop in!
We got federal training grants! aQuire was selected to partner with community colleges in Oregon for a 3 year federal demonstration grant, developing a e-learning plus clinical training model for direct-care worker training that will set a “gold standard” for the nation. We’re very excited to be a part of this program, and look forward to sharing our results along the way.
We’ve just launched a major new outreach campaign. In the process, we’re adding new online courses and programs, including several Leadership and Family courses that we believe will significantly help our clients achieve their goals. We also created a User Advisory Group and heard awesome feedback, including, “Subscribing to aQuire is a no-brainer - the outcomes are so great!” My favorite bit of feedback came from a large corporate home care client whose offices have the option to train with aQuire or train in house. She told me, “100% of our most successful offices are using aQuire to help them build strong teams and strong referral networks.” Now that’s success!
We’ve just signed on to help create and launch an exciting national family caregiver support website. I have been consulting on this project, based out of NYC, for the past year, watching it grow and become something that will be truly original, innovative and exciting. We’re now in the final stages of development and plan to have an early 2011 launch – watch for it!
This presents a unique marketing opportunity for you – a chance to reach 10 million family caregivers. Perhaps you’d like to become an “expert” on the site, answering caregiver’s questions or offering ideas or suggestions to make their life easier.
Perhaps your company could offer a discount or special price to introduce your services to caregivers.
The more creative you are, the better your message will get heard.
If you want to have some fun, let me know – I’ll help you get set up! Shoot me an email (Sharon@aquiretraining.com) and get involved!
Sharon has been involved in senior care for many years, both as an owner and operator of assisted living communities and now as the CEO of the Institute for Professional Care Education (IPCed). IPCed is the parent company of a family of caregiver training organizations including aQuire Training Solutions (for online caregiver training), Medifecta Healthcare (for award-winning caregiver training DVDs and instructor resources) and EasyCEU.com (for NAB approved CEUs for administrators). At IPCed we're passionate about training...passionate about quality.