Anticipating the family advocate in long-term care

A dear friend of mine called last week looking for answers. Her 75-year-old father, having battled melanoma for the past year, had fallen at home and was subsequently hospitalized for a month. Following weeks of physical therapy, it was time for some hard decisions.

It had become increasingly apparent that Dad would not be able to return home due to his weakened condition and propensity for falls. His devoted wife was wracked with guilt at the thought of placing her once vibrant and virile husband in a skilled nursing facility. I tried to assure my friend that all nursing homes aren’t what they used to be—a place to wait out one’s final days—and that should his condition improve, he could surely return home or perhaps transition to assisted living. But my words felt hollow. I could hear the frustration and exhaustion in her voice.

What bothered my friend most while considering long-term care options was a seeming lack of respect for family advocates. My friend and her mother are highly educated, professional women fighting for their loved one’s dignity and choices with a fierceness that can be daunting, I imagine, to some of the long-term care professionals they encounter. They might not know a thing about RUG-IV, MDS 3.0, or RACs, but they had done their homework and came to appointments armed with detailed questions about quality of life issues, privacy, and treatment options.

My friend doesn’t know or care about staffing shortages, reimbursement headaches, or operational issues. She’s simply a daughter trying to do right by her loved one. And she was ticked off by a perceived lack of concern and impatience by a couple of overworked, harried caregivers. I tried to assure her that most caregivers and administrators in our field are dedicated and patient and would have taken the time to carefully counsel her and her mother, and I urged her not to condemn the whole field based on one or two disappointing encounters.

At this time of year, when many of us are burdened with work and family obligations, not to mention strenuous holiday preparations, it’s understandable that we might occasionally lose our cool with our co-workers, clients, and family. And we can indeed come off as insensitive or impatient to the needs of others. We all need a break occasionally; this is especially true of you hardworking caregivers and of the family advocates who come to visit. While it may sound like trite self-help, do try and set aside a sliver of “me time” daily, to take a walk, read some inspirational words, or indulge in a warm bath or a piece of chocolate (my favorite). It’ll do you good and hopefully energize you to face, with confidence and care, those who come to you looking for guidance.

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