How to create nursing home family councils

In part one of the family council posts, Karlin Mbah of Friends and Relatives of the Institutionalized Aged (FRIA) discusses the role of the family council in improving the nursing home environment. In today’s follow-up post, she addresses ways in which to organize families to create a family council. In addition to her suggestions, some of the tips I provided in my posts on resident council meetings can be adapted for connecting with potentially interested families.

Overcoming challenges to family council organizing

The most frequent question asked by Family Councils is: How do we get more members?

Recruiting and maintaining members seems to be one of the biggest challenges to family council organization. First and foremost, it is important for family councils to realize that you do not need mass numbers to be successful! A family council of 4-5 can often make a big difference. Additionally, arranging family council meetings at a time families can easily attend and conducting well-run, focused meetings often helps increase numbers.

Family councils often spring up when a major issue occurs and then die down when the concern is resolved. Finding positive projects to keep family councils running when no major concerns are present will help keep the momentum going and show the nursing home that the council is dedicated to a positive growing relationship. Some family councils achieve this by conducting educational forums on long-term care; others have activities such as picnics and entertainment.

A second major challenge to overcome is resistance on the part of the nursing home administration.

Family councils can address administrative resistance in several ways. From the beginning, in talking with the administration, emphasize the supportive, constructive role councils can play. Look for concrete ways to be helpful and connect personally with staff. Effective family councils walk a fine line between sometimes cooperating with administration and taking a strong, independent stand at other times.

Where to get help

FRIA and many other citizens’ advocacy groups help family councils organize in nursing homes in their respective states. FRIA also has published the “Family Council Manual and Tool Kit: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Effective Nursing Home Family Councils”.

For information on citizen advocacy groups in your State go to the NCCNHR website. (NCCNHR, formerly the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, is the national umbrella group of all long-term care citizens’ advocacy groups).

Additionally, your local ombudsman can assist with family council formation.

Finally, you can seek out help by asking other well-established councils to mentor your group or getting assistance for a community organizing group such as a union or a non-profit.

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