A snapshot of successful dementia surveys

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

I firmly believe the old saying that a picture's worth a thousand words. But for every strong, visual message photograph conveys, there are dozens of more messages that it doesn't, or can't, get across.

For example, many of us on the McKnight's team sat for shiny new headshots during our visit to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living Convention & Expo this week. What mine will show you is pretty straightforward: I'm blonde, I had a gray suit on that day and I packed pink lip gloss along for the trip.

But there's so much more that you wouldn't get from looking at those photos, like the fact that I listened to my favorite playlist while getting ready that morning, or that I had a hazelnut latte for breakfast.

The disparity between what we see and the context behind it was hit home by Alice Bonner, Ph.D., R.N., the Secretary of Elder Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, during her convention session “Comprehensive Care for Persons with Dementia: Survey Readiness around Person-Centered Care.” The session was aimed at getting providers ready for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Dementia Focused Survey Process, which has been rolled out in five states so far.

A facility could have top-notch dementia care programs, but without a strong survey strategy, those efforts could go unrecognized, Bonner said.

To drive home her point, Bonner showed a photo of three sleepy-looking nursing home residents sitting in chairs. It would be hard for a surveyor to tell whether the ladies were overly medicated, or tired because they had recently gone on a walk or participated in an engaging group activity.

“What it appears to be is not necessarily inadequate dementia care, but you need to be looking at it with the eyes of a surveyor,” Bonner said.

The key to effective communication between providers and surveyors is being able to capture creative dementia care programs on a survey, Bonner said. In order to do this providers should consider the entrance interview with a surveyor their “big opportunity” to share their dementia care philosophy, and follow through with team meetings, a review of dementia procedures and a consideration of potential deficiencies.

“There are lots of things with surveys, lots of boxes to check. But don't forget that human connection,” Bonner told the audience.

Involving staff, residents and their families is important to developing creative, caring ways of providing person-centered dementia care, Bonner said. But being able to demonstrate those programs in action to surveyors is vital. Because without providers prepared to show surveyors the steps they take to ensure dementia care, those surveyors may miss the big picture.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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