Resident Council Matters

My first foray into resident advocacy began a few months after I arrived here twelve years ago. A resident’s family member asked me to attend the local monthly Alzheimer’s Association meetings that were held at the facility. Those folks had concerns and they wanted me to help them express themselves and improve their membership. Ultimately, when their group changed, they decided to have their meetings outside the facility.

Looking for another advocacy role, I considered Resident Council. I thought it would be advisory in nature. But because I was curious I decided to become involved. I wanted to see what did go on. The activity director told me she would attend to take the minutes. When I attended my first meeting, it was apparent how difficult it was to get residents involved. Some residents on medication or those with hearing difficulties fell asleep during our meeting and snored loudly. Some female residents were very shy and quite content to sit passively and watch. Since I did most of the talking at meetings, before long I was elected president. In that role I wanted residents to interact with each other and express themselves.

Sometimes when residents were vocal, Council meetings could get bogged down. Frequently, food issues got everybody going and meetings lasted too long. After consulting with Council, the facility set up a separate food committee, so those issues were no longer brought up at Resident Council. I felt that even though residents go on and on, they needed to be heard. The separate food committee allowed Council meetings to run more smoothly.

My most effective Resident Council meetings as president were several years ago. Back then, a female resident became my ally after we discussed our concerns. That was quite a transformation because at first she did not want to be involved or speak up. I think she was concerned about recrimination. But after a few productive Council meetings, she wanted to empower others and she toured the facility, talked with residents before meetings, and encouraged them to attend. With her assistance we were able to get more accomplished at our meetings, which rewarded the residents with a sense of accomplishment.

Since no other resident wanted to be president, I did it for a number of years. I would have been content to just be a member. But when that did not happen, I left Resident Council. I needed a break and I thought they needed a new face.

Currently, after being away from it for several years, I am again president. I can share a little bit about what goes on. We follow an agenda where residents can express concerns about each department. It can still be difficult to get residents to speak up. With different levels of cognitive ability, some are better able to participate than others. I want alert and oriented residents to participate. But that can be difficult, since some are not well enough to attend.

This year I have worked with the ombudsman to improve Resident Council. She has told me different ways meetings are promoted and conducted at other nursing homes. Since residents need to be able to hear the meetings, I requested a microphone. For now I am using one from a karaoke—which is better than nothing. But a table, lavalier, or clip-on microphone would make it much easier and hands-free. We diminish people when we do not acknowledge that they might need sound amplification to participate in a meeting.

If the president can conduct the meeting, and there is a system to call staff in an emergency, then a staff member would not need to attend. A tape recorder could record the meeting, with the staff transcribing the minutes later. Without staff present, residents might feel more inclined to speak. Resident Council is a business meeting and residents should feel empowered by assisting themselves and other residents.

Before meetings I post flyers for the residents and remind them again on meeting day. They usually respond better to another resident’s invitation. We are planning to give a resident’s award each month to the staff person who goes the extra mile. A heartwarming result has been residents’ tales of the outstanding things staff members have done.

Resident Council could always be better. When baby boomers come to nursing homes, Resident Council could be more effective. But in the meantime I show up every month trying to make it better now.

Topics: Articles