Successful New Year's resolutions, LTC-style

Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

I don't make New Year's resolutions.

I do, however, have a list of goals I'd like to accomplish this year, including editing the first draft of my novel, finishing the illustrated book I started, scheduling more speaking engagements, and writing more articles. Plus personal goals such as meditating more often and taking more vacation time.

Perhaps you, like me, have a scroll's worth of plans for 2017. Maybe you hope to improve hiring practices, boost the census, enhance teamwork and communication, increase insurance reimbursement and begin innovative new programming that generates more income.

Perhaps you, like me, recognize the impossibility of completing all of this in one year.

Rather than resolve to do more than I can possibly accomplish, I prefer to view the beginning of the year as a time to examine the course I've been on and to make corrections as needed.

The American Psychological Association (APA) makes several recommendations for individuals around setting goals for the year. I've applied their counsel to long-term care organizations below: 

1.     Start small: The APA suggests making adjustments “that you think you can keep,” rather than sweeping changes. This reminds me of the recommendation offered last year by David Gifford, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President of Quality and Regulatory Affairs of the American Health Care Association to run pilot studies when looking to alter systems within an organization, using the model of “one staff member, one resident, one day.” This creates the opportunity to problem-solve along the way, before substantial time and financial resources have been committed. This template could apply to a multitude of situations, from programming to hiring practices to new ways of monitoring insurance reimbursement.

2.     Change one behavior at a time: Unhealthy behaviors in individuals and organizations develop over time and it takes time to replace them with healthy behaviors. The APA suggests choosing a focus of change to prevent becoming overwhelmed by attempting too much at once. For example, a nursing director who's typically inundated with personnel complaints might create open office hours that allow him or her to be available while reserving time for other important activities. An administrator who wants to address staffing issues could start with half an hour each morning to walk through the facility and talk to employees. A few months later, another action could be taken based on what's been learned.

3.     Talk about it: Someone trying to exercise more frequently can find it helpful to have a workout buddy. Similarly, long-term care professionals attempting new approaches can benefit from talking to others making comparable changes, such as a “team huddle” with supervisors conferring about the progress of a new employee onboarding technique or a biweekly phone call with a colleague at another facility. Discussing efforts with others can help maintain motivation and accountability.

4.     Don't beat yourself up: As the APA puts it, “Minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK.” The important thing is to get back on track and keep going.

5.     Ask for support: It can be stressful to make changes on the job or in your personal life and sometimes it's necessary to seek additional support. Whether it's from a business mentor for work or a counselor for private concerns, resolving problems can free up energy for fruitful new pursuits.

With regard to my own goals, I decided to take the first week of 2017 off from work so that I'd be well on my way to accomplishing my “course correction” of having more vacation time this year. Rather than leaving town, I'm departing from my normal routine by letting the time unfold, choosing activities as my mood and circumstances allow. Let the changes begin.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Gold Medal blogger in the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with more than 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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