Introducing the nursing home to ‘family councils’

Today, guest poster Karlin Mbah, of the New York-based organization Friends and Relatives of the Institutionalized Aged (FRIA), explains what “family councils” are and how they can work with nursing homes to improve care for the residents. In a later post, she’ll discuss ways to create a successful family council.

What is a family council?

Background on FRIA and Karlin Mbah

FRIA: The Voice and Resource for Quality Long Term Care is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering the dignity and independence of seniors in long term care settings, with a special focus on nursing home residents, and to ensuring that they receive prompt, high quality compassionate care.

Mbah is the Family Council Coordinator and Policy Advocate for FRIA. As the family council coordinator, Mbah provides technical support and assistance to family councils in the New York City greater metropolitan area.

Currently FRIA conducts quarterly “Advocates of Nursing Home Reform” meetings at which family council members and leaders from all over the city meet to discuss issues and projects in their nursing homes. FRIA will also be assisting Advocates of Nursing Home Reform members in publishing a quarterly newsletter, by and for family councils, which will begin distribution in 2010.

Mbah also works on FRIA’s free telephone helpline (212.732.4455) which is open M-F 10AM-5PM to answer your questions about long term care.

Parts of this blog contribution were taken from FRIA’s Family Council Manual and Tool Kit by Jean Murphy and Jessica Herold.

Family councils can play a very important role in helping residents of a nursing home have good quality of care and quality of life. A typical family council is a group of committed families and friends of nursing home residents who work together to improve the quality of life for all residents in a particular facility. For simplicity, I will refer to family councils and their members as families, but friends, partners, significant others, and all regular caregivers participate equally in family councils and are included when I refer to “families.”

Family councils have the right to organize under the law. Under federal law, the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act (OBRA ’87) recognizes that families are an important part of a nursing home community and serve as advocates for good care. The act guarantees families of nursing home residents the right to meet together in a facility and to be provided with space, privacy, and staff assistance if sought. Administrators are required to listen to, and act upon, the recommendations and grievances of family councils. Several states, including New York, have strengthened and empowered family councils by enacting laws that give additional rights and protections to councils, beyond those provided by federal law.

What do family councils do?

Family councils bring about positive change in nursing homes. The structure and activities of councils vary greatly, depending on their membership and the issues they decide to address. Some typical family council activities include:

· welcoming new families and friends to the nursing home

· offering support to each other

· raising concerns and complaints and working to resolve them

· providing education and information

· improving communications with the home

· arranging joint activities for families, friends, and residents

· recognizing staff for good work

· connecting to community resources

· speaking out on public issues

· taking the lead in bringing new models of long-term care to their communities, such as person-centered care, also known as culture change

Family councils allow a venue for families to address their concerns in a safe setting and get support for the resolution of these concerns. Nursing home staff attends family council meetings by invitation only and must respond to recommendations and grievances presented by the council. These recommendations and concerns can be made in the name of the group, thus providing anonymity to individuals and a united front of families working for better care.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at

Topics: Articles