Thursday, 31 January 2019

Care Partner Wednesday--The Advocate as Care Partner

Many times I've remarked that everyone who walks the journey with an elder can be called a care partner. I've talked about the roles of professional care partners, those who serve the meals, family members, those who visit occasionally and volunteers.

What about the advocate?

What's an advocate? There's not a question I get asked more. Here's the short answer:

An advocate supports the care partners, the families and the residents, in that order, in their neighbourhood.

Supporting the Care Partners

In the traditional organizational chart, the CEO and directors are at the top, then there is middle management, a lower level of management, and finally people who don't manage anyone. Those who give the hands-on care and are on the front lines don't make the chart at all.

By giving "support the care partners" as the first and primary job of the advocate, we raise the position of the care partners to a more reasonable level. They give the care, they know the residents' needs, the processes and how things work best. Their ideas are based on experience. How foolish to not consult them.

I support the care partners by giving them what they need to do the job. Sometimes this means laundry detergent, or an updated list to record bowel movements or information about a new resident.

I also give them a voice. We meet regularly to discuss issues, look for better ways to run the neighbourhood and to solve problems.  We call these "huddles" and they are a great way to use the valuable resource of the care partner's ideas and experience. Outside of huddles, a care partner will often come to me saying, "I've been thinking..." Perhaps they have an idea to help a resident sleep better, or a way to rearrange a room to make it more efficient. Because they know their ideas are valuable, they are eager to share them.

I give them encouragement. It helps that I have an amazing team and I'm proud of the job they do, but I never hesitate to tell them. Sometimes, someone who has made a special effort will receive a card and a small coffee voucher. We celebrate their birthdays with a card signed by the team, a cake and a song. I write their performance appraisals and use these to recognize their efforts as well as look for opportunities for growth. Without these amazing people, our neighbourhoods would implode, as is evident when even one is away or late, and they should be encouraged daily.

Supporting the Family Members

Supporting family members is also supporting care partners. Families are often stressed, worried and sometimes not trusting that their loved one is getting the best care. By developing a relationship with them and frequent, pro-active communication, I can often deflect negative feedback that might have gone to the care partners. I listen, answer concerns, investigate problems, pass on messages, send pictures and tell about successes. When a resident is new, close communication is important to establish relationship and trust and allay the many fears of the transition process. When residents are sick or nearing the end of their life, it helps families to know there's someone they can ask the hard questions. After someone has passed away, few words are needed, just comfort and caring.

Supporting Residents

When I think about what I do in a day, this is the smallest part of my job. I support the care partners, who do the lion's share of supporting the residents. I help in the dining room with residents who need assistance with their meal. I answer call bells when someone needs help in their room. I chat with those who stop by my desk. I prepare a growth plan for each resident which tells about their personal history and share it with staff so they can get to know residents better. I might take clothing to be labelled or get a better mattress or make sure they have briefs. All of this is miniscule compared to the hands-on care of care partners.

You won't find a person with the title "advocate" in most care homes. However, it's important to understand the position and ensure, no matter what the title, that someone is there to support the professional care partners who care for your loved one, so they can give the best service possible.

Care partner Wednesday--The Advocate as Care Partner

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