My 86-year-old dad, who traveled to Europe last year and spends hours each day on the Internet, fell and broke a hip. The first week post-op he was openly depressed and suicidal. “Just take me home and let me die.”

The wrong way to  do it

His wife and family were finally able to convince him that, if he would submit to rehab in a nursing home, he could go home to do what he wished. Toward this end, his wife and I visited the only nursing home in his rural community mid-day on Sunday. We asked the first person we saw (no one greeted us and there were no visitors around) if there was someone we could talk to. The answer was “No, not on the weekend.” Could we see the rehab unit? “Yes, but no one is there on the weekend.” We turned right around and left. This was definitely not “it”.

The right way to do it

My dad’s wife knew some people who worked or volunteered at another facility “down the road”.  She decided, based on word of mouth and some internet research, that this would be the facility. (We had to do the research and tell the Discharge Planning Department what we wanted. Their default would have been the “bad” facility.)

I received a cheery and positive call from the admission coordinator of the other facility. I told her that we had urged Dad’s doctor to move the hospital discharge to Monday so that he was not admitted when management and rehab staff were not available. She assured me that they are always there. She was calling to reassure me that they were there for Dad and our family and ask what additional services she could provide to make our experience a good one.

Today, six days after Dad’s admission to the facility, I was able to visit for the first time. In my professional role I have been in over 300 nursing homes across the country. I know that looks are most certainly not the best measure. But, based on my conversation with the admission coordinator, I expected the chosen facility to be a new, more upscale facility.  This was not the case. I had to park “out in the sticks” in an overflow gravel parking lot. The entry and main nursing stations were very “old school”. I have been in much, much nicer facilities.

But, from the minute I walked in, there was a positive energy from the staff, residents and visitors. Things were happening. People were talking to and with the residents. I had arrived right at change of shifts, but when I asked a nurse where my dad’s room was, she offered to take me there.

When I entered Dad’s room and saw that there were three patients, I thought, “Uh ohh: he is not going to be happy.” I was wrong. He is happy with the staff, his rehab and, most of all, is looking forward to using this time to get strong enough to go home.

Doing it right

So, how do we create the kind of culture where all staff are working in the same direction and the results are seamlessly conveyed to residents and visitors? 

It may sound hokey, but it comes down to developing and living a mission statement. How can you, as a leader, do this?

  1. Create your mission statement. Make sure that stakeholders, right down to the housekeeping and/or food services level, are involved and heard.
  2. If this is a new concept/project, stage a kickoff call to introduce the concept to workers at every level. (Think tee-shirts, balloons, etc.)
  3. For an ongoing project, incorporate the plan into every meeting. Start with a review of the current/existing plan. Ask participants if they believe that the organization is meeting or striving to fulfill these goals.
  4. Be sure that you evaluate the data, especially first impressions. Take your data back to the team and let them be part of the adjustments to the vision.

So, what message should you take from this? 

It isn’t enough to “secret shopper” your weekend staff and point out shortcomings. You must create a team culture and goals that make every member of the team want to make this the best possible experience for every resident and their family.

Pat Moran