How “Little” Things Can Pay Big Dividends for Long-term Care Facilities

The dilemma is obvious: quality nursing home care is costly, both for provider and resident. One important part of the solution, however, is not so self-evident: In this world of big-ticket expenses, for people, medicine, technology and facilities, little things can really pay off.

5 Overlooked Paths to Lower Costs and Higher Resident Satisfaction

The subhead above should actually be reversed, because in an era of resident-centered care, their satisfaction, as an outcome, becomes the common thread through a multitude of cost-cutting and care-improving initiatives. Here are just a handful of seldom-tried-but-still-so-true efforts that, while seeming small, can have a big impact:

1. Provide care with the head and heart

Medical science can only do so much for long-term care residents, and yet it often becomes the sole focus for nursing homes or long-term care institutions. The National Institute of Health (NIH) wanted to see if the quality of life for both caregiver and the cared-for might be improved by adding a distinctly personal, human component — emotion. In a study1 of institutions that empowered their staff to employ “tools of the heart,” from simple empathy in the moment to the formation of genuine personal attachments over time, the researcher discovered that “Surprisingly, some staff members said they particularly appreciated working with residents difficult to control. They felt accomplished when such residents successfully transitioned from life at home to life in institutional care. Emotions created dignity for staff and induced compliance among residents.”

Happier staff equals greater engagement with the work, and less turnover. Having happier residents has been shown to reduce the need for medications. In short, greater satisfaction all around, at a lower cost.

2. Respect the environment inside and outside your facility

The loss of home, particularly a long-time home, is one of the most difficult losses to overcome in a move to long-term care. Consequently, the less-institutional and more home-like your facility can seem, the better the resident satisfaction. This can be as fundamental as the design of your building and decoration of the rooms, or as seemingly incidental as the attractiveness of necessities like bathroom fixtures or personal-use tissue boxes. The Person-Centered Care in Acute Care Study, featured in the International Journal of Older People Nursing2 , showed “positive effects on residents with dementia (e.g. reductions in falls and the use of antipsychotics), by making simple environmental changes… (e.g. enhancing colors and adding comfortable seating areas for social interactions).”

Paying attention to the environment outside your facility is also important, especially to the families of residents. You can reinforce your image as a place of genuine caring when visiting relatives see your choice of environmentally responsible products, or hear of your corporate commitment to sustainability overall.

3. Communicate clearly, to residents and their families

As just mentioned, making sure that residents and their guardians alike hear about all the good things you do ensures that you, and they, will get the full benefit of your efforts. Whether it’s through traditional or electronic means, the mantra here is communicate, communicate, communicate. Openness and connection brings resident confidence, which in turn improves satisfaction and even referrals.

4. Demonstrate employee appreciation daily

Providing long-term care is tough for everybody, and especially those on the front lines. In spite of all the stress, physically and emotionally, your best employees will rise to the occasion, improving the lives of residents and boosting your reputation at the same time. The question is, will you rise to the occasion and acknowledge them? Nearly 80%3 of nursing home employees who leave voluntarily cite lack of appreciation as a key factor. The catch is employee appreciation can’t be a “plaque on the wall and a pat on the back” once in a while; you have to find genuine expressions — and actions — that prove to your staff that they are seen, understood and valued. Get creative. Tailor the recognition to the facility and the individuals. And do it on an on-going, even irregular and unexpected basis. When you pleasantly surprise your employees, they’re more likely to pleasantly surprise you.

5. Exercise everybody’s right to exercise

The research is pretty straightforward on this one (straight from the NIH again): “The application of a physical activity program had positive effects on physical, functional and psychological facets of the residents’ lives. Therefore, physical activity may prevent or reduce several medical and psychological problems associated with old age.”4 That means that implementing appropriate, regular exercise for residents – even if it’s just stretching or other simple movements while seated – can reduce severe costs, too, while improving quality of life. Of course, be sure to have a doctor approve what qualifies as “appropriate” exercise for a given resident.

1 National Institute of Health
2 International Journal of Older People Nursing
3 McKnight’s Long-term Care News
4 National Institute of Health