I headed to the 2018 LeadingAge convention last week looking for a fix of long-term care enthusiasm and that’s exactly what I got.

I met up with old colleagues, put faces to voices I’d spoken to for years and wandered through the expo hall catching snippets of conversations that might be exciting only to long-term care professionals.


Armed with a large cup of black coffee, I attended an early morning seminar on the Patient-Directed Payment Model (PDPM), mostly so I’d know what everyone was freaking out about at work. “Are there any payment adjustments for residents with behavioral health problems?” I inquired of the speakers. “No,” came the reply.

Facilities will continue to have to manage residents with anxiety, substance abuse and other difficult and time-consuming behaviors without financial remuneration through PDPM. For those looking for immediate answers, consulting psychologists can be a good resource for staff training and local associations may be able to offer educational sessions on specific topics across facilities.

Team building

I participated in a session offered by Christopher Ridenhour, GFN entitled, “The Other Voice: Race, Class, Culture and the Other ‘Isms’ in Aging Services.”

“And you wonder why we have a staffing crisis,” he said, pointing out, for example, that attendees walking briskly through the conference hall without acknowledging one another were likely to be doing the same thing with their staff members back at home.

Ridenhour emphasized that all workers, regardless of their race, age or any other characteristic, want to be recognized and appreciated.

The session included practice exercises that highlighted commonalities between participants. I left with a new friend with whom I “LinkedIn” the next day. We were born in different countries, work in different LTC roles and have almost a decade between us, but given the directive to “tell each other your life story in thirty seconds,” we found the kind of common ground that any employer would want for their team members.

Montessori for staff

The theme of connection was echoed in a session offered by psychologist Cameron Camp, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia on teaching Montessori techniques to staff members. Montessori methods — which focus on creating environments that support independence and success — have been used in schools for decades, with elders in long-term care, and are being incorporated into their research project with workers.

The presentation began with an audience member invited to learn how to play guitar for the first time. After five minutes of Montessori-based instruction, the packed room was singing America’s folk rock song “A Horse with No Name” to his chords.

A short video showed elders with severe dementia peeling vegetables for dinner. “Where’s the dementia?” the presenters asked. It couldn’t be seen.

Selecting the two most disenfranchised departments in several nursing homes — housekeeping and laundry — the researchers anticipate that the use of Montessori techniques will improve morale and increase retention of workers. Based on the enthusiasm and lack of turnover shown by newly trained staff members, it seems they are off to an excellent start.

Expo hall

I raced through as much of the massive Expo Hall as I could in my one day in Philly. I discovered a “smart belt” that senses falls and deploys an airbag before an elder hits the ground. (Several of my family members could have used that last year!)

Reps from my current EMR provider answered my burning question on how to identify the room numbers of recently deceased residents so that I can offer support to grieving roommates and staff members.

Psychologist Cynthia Green, Ph.D., described the clinical and practical success of group brain training at her Total Brain Health booth, and I was excited to find that the ECRI Institute has conducted a “deep dive” into “Meeting Patients’ Behavioral Health Needs in Acute Care.” Among other things, it analyzes the business case for behavioral health.

Heading home

I regretfully pulled myself away from LeadingAge 2018 at the end of my day there, consoling myself with a delicious takeout dinner from a Reading Market stall for the bus ride home.

While PDPM won’t be the answer to improved integration of mental and physical health needs, I found signs of hope everywhere I turned, from the inclusion of psychologists presenting at the convention, to the behavioral health deep dive, to the emphasis on interpersonal connections as the answer to our staffing crisis.

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 the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.