This article was written by Christine Kristanich, a Branch Manager for Caregiver Homes.
The New Year is a great time to reflect, acknowledging your accomplishments and observing the opportunities to improve in the year to come. As members of care teams who support caregivers, elders and individuals with disabilities, the beginning of a new year is a chance to find ways to improve care management and planning. It is also a time to consider new approaches to relationship building in order to achieve quality, person-centered care.
For care teams, here are three commitments worth renewing this year:
Listening to the Consumer and Caregiver
As professionals, we all possess a trained and learned skillset that includes clinical knowledge, identification of possible issues, and a variety of methods to address those issues. However, as we begin this new year, my team and I are renewing our commitment to always strive to reach beyond the issues identified in care plans and ensure that we really know and understand the individuals and caregivers we support. Person-centered care means listening to a consumer's goals, needs, and dreams, and it means listening to a caregiver's worries, fears and hopes.
One consumer we support is a young man who loves to sing and play his guitar. He has told us that he wants to be on American Idol—a feat for even professional singers. We encourage him to play and sing on our home visits. It only takes five additional minutes, but it shows him that we want to see him reach his goals. He enjoys sharing his love of music with others, and our gift back to him is to listen. It enhances the relationship because we are focusing on something that is important to the individual, not just the details of his care plan.
One caregiver we serve said, "My care team is never in a hurry to get off the phone with me. They are there to find out what I need, and they don't talk to me like I have to rush." For members of a support team, it is about being present and respecting caregivers' opinions, time, and work. As the highly regarded author and speaker Yasmin Mogahed said, "Sometimes the best way to help someone is to understand them."
Building Mutual Trust and Respect
Good care teams take the time to develop trusting, respectful relationships which evolve over time after you have proven to be a consistent, reliable resource. We currently serve an individual with autism whose father is his primary caregiver. This family chose Caregiver Homes because they felt let down by a lack of commitment from previous organizations. This meant that at the start of our relationship, the caregiver was very guarded in what challenges and concerns he would share with us. He was not yet sure if he could trust us.
During the first few home visits, we allowed extra time to just to get to know both of them. We would have conversations about items in their home, and the father taught us some sign language he uses to communicate with his son. On subsequent visits, we would greet them both using some of the signs we learned. The father became comfortable and relaxed around us, and soon enough, he let us know when his son was having a rough day or when things were not going well at school. He even let us know that he had scheduled a meeting with the school to discuss his concerns, but was worried that he would not be listened to because he felt he was "just the father" and not a professional. We offered to attend the meeting with him, which he quickly accepted. During the meeting, we supported the father by reminding him of specific examples he had shared with us, offering "professional observations", and by just being with him during this tough conversation. This extra time and support solidified the relationship and continues to help us work with both father and son to meet their goals.
Creating an Ongoing, Open Dialogue
Caregivers may have important questions they worry about asking. It is important to create an environment and report with the caregivers you support that allows for open, honest communication. This is the greatest testament to how well you listened and established trust: do they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you?
One caregiver came to us because she wanted the support of a care team in order to continue the caregiving role she had taken on with an individual. About six months into working with us, she developed a medical issue that required a few days in the hospital. At first, she was hesitant to share her health concerns because she thought she would be replaced. By keeping the lines of communication open, we encouraged her husband to go through the same training to ensure that he was also able to be the caregiver in her absence. Because we took that extra and unrequired step to also credential him, he was able to step into the role of primary caregiver while she took the time she needed in the hospital to get better. The care team provided some enhanced support while she was in the hospital, which gave her, the individual she supported, and her care team a sense of relief that the individual's life would not be disrupted during a period when the caregiver needed to focus on herself.
It is integral to the quality of the care plan and the caregiving experience to create and foster an ongoing dialogue with consumers whenever possible. As Tiffany Ward, a nurse with Caregiver Homes, wrote in her blog article about educating consumers about their medications, having conversations with consumers about their care "broadens their independence and increases their self-esteem. It improves their quality of life and helps them make decisions about their care."
Being attentive listeners, building trust, and communicating openly: these are important professional and personal goals particularly those who support caregivers and consumers. They are probably not new goals, but they are worth remembering and renewing. Ultimately, how care teams improve engagement with consumers and caregivers is not a New Year's resolution—it is an ongoing promise and commitment you make to families every single day.