Care providers change to better serve seniors

Over time, businesses develop new and better ways to connect with customers. The business of senior care is no exception, and managers at Family Health West in Fruita say they’ve instituted recent changes to focus even more on the needs of their clients.

At the long-term skilled care facility, seniors now exercise more control over their schedules than they did in years past. At the Oaks, an assisted living facility, the staff encourages seniors to continue to lead productive lives in retirement.

“In terms of background, some of these ideas we’ve tried to do for years,” said Wade McDowell, nursing home administrator.

McDowell said allowing seniors to make decisions makes sense because they’re the ones who live with those decisions. For example, staff members used to choose the kinds of napkins used at the nursing home. But seniors were the ones who used them. “Now they choose the type of napkin and the color,” McDowell said. “We’ve also expanded the idea of coffee and drinks and snacks that some have requested.”

Clients — called elders by McDowell — might even choose the color of the walls in their rooms.

“It makes them feel more like they’re at home,” said Angelina Salazar, director of communications for Family Health West.

The Oaks also has instituted a new approach, encouraging seniors to find continued purpose in their lives. After their working years are finished and the children raised, some seniors in retirement homes might find themselves doing little more than eating, sleeping and engaging in social activities. It’s an atmosphere in which seniors can begin to wonder what it all means and whether they’re supposed to do something more.

“It’s natural for people in this field to want to help people,” said Michele Snider, administrator at the Oaks. “But disabled people would come in and my staff was taking care of them.”

Soon, staff members noticed the seniors would expend less effort to care for themselves and started shirking responsibilities they could handle. That led the Oaks to implement the approach Snider calls “finding a purpose.” She said it stems from her own religious values.

“There’s the gift of life He holds us accountable for,” she said. “We were doing them a disservice by making them think this is the beginning of the end. Each of us wants to have something to live for.”

Staff members work with seniors to help define goals and projects. “Every day, they wake up and feel they can accomplish something meaningful,” Snider said.

The new approach is something Snider discusses in meetings with supervisors and other staff members. “I’m pretty relentless with the message,” she said.

Some of the cultural changes at Family Health West are directed at staff as well as the clients. At the nursing home, administrators realized they could foster a more productive workplace by responding better to the needs of workers. The nursing home provides workshops to teach team building, conflict resolution and accountability for actions. “Those are real positive things,” McDowell said.

The facility also has implemented the “universal worker” concept in which people switch jobs for a day so they can better understand each others’ challenges. For example, housekeepers have taken classes designed for certified nursing assistants. Some plan to transition into CNAs, but others simply want to better understand CNAs, McDowell said.

The new programs are notable additions to an organization that already has a reputation for innovation. The Family Health West Main Street program instituted in the 1990s offers a model for treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. A portion of the nursing home features replicas of retail stores and businesses normally found on the main street of a town. The setting can make Alzheimer’s patients feel more at home.

Managers at Family Health West hope the changes at the nursing home and the Oaks make other clients feel more at home and more productive.