Dr. El
Dr. El

In my first year as a nursing home psychologist, I entered a resident’s room for a session and she invited me to have a seat in her wheelchair, the only surface that was clean and free of belongings. The thought of sitting in a wheelchair freaked me out. Instead, I carried a heavy chair from the day room up and back down the long hallway. 

Afterward I contemplated my reflexive fear of that wheelchair. I concluded that my reaction wasn’t about infection control but rather a superstitious belief that I could somehow jinx myself by sitting there. It separated me from her experience and didn’t offer me any protection from the human reality that any one of us could wind up in that chair tomorrow.

I suspect that fear is a primary reason why it’s rare for long-term care leaders to spend a night in their own facilities, despite the wealth of information they could glean about their enterprises from doing so. 

Overcoming such apprehensions, trailblazers in this area joined Laura Beck, the Eden Alternative Learning & Development guide, to discuss their experiences with The Sleepover Project on a webinar that is now available on demand here. It will be followed by an upcoming mini-course on how to create a Sleepover Project in other organizations. (Sign up here for the Eden Alternative newsletter to stay informed about the launch date.)

The webinar featured Jill Vitale-Aussem, president and CEO of the Eden Alternative, and Patricia McBride, the VP of Clinical and Compliance at Christian Living Communities/Cappella Living Solutions based out of Denver. 

During the course of her career, Vitale-Aussem spent several nights in different LTC facilities in which she has been, at different times as a nursing home administrator, CCRC executive director and vice president of operations. McBride convinced her entire leadership team to each spend a night as a resident over one summer. 

McBride noted that, with continued promotions, organizational leaders were moving further and further from the day-to-day experience of what it meant to be living and working within the setting. Calling it a “collective empathy experience,” they envisioned this opportunity as a way to increase their understanding of their residents and staff, and to determine what, if any, improvements needed to be made to their facilities. The leaders gleaned more insights through staying one night in their communities than they could have imagined.

One of the biggest takeaways, Vitale-Aussem said, was that in their “high-quality, amazing organizations … the most disturbing things were the systems, policies and procedures, and the overall culture.” 

That’s right, the areas that were the most problematic were those that the excellent leaders of solid facilities had put into place and could change, and that they had been completely unaware of prior to their night in the facility.

“We had been trying to fix things through a customer service approach,” McBride pointed out, “but the problem was the system.”

What kinds of things? The ubiquity and impact of interrupted sleep and the many controllable factors that lead to it. The unintentional callousness of the admissions process, which they subsequently lessened by staggering staff assessments over a longer period of time. That a single minute waiting for the call bell could seem like 50. That they have good people taking care of their residents under arduous circumstances that facility leaders could make considerably less arduous.

Listen to the webinar for more examples of how their sleepovers changed their approach and for practical details about how they worked with their teams prior to checking in for the night. Sign up for news about the mini-course when you’re ready to overcome your trepidation, find out what’s really going on in your facility and make it a place where you wouldn’t mind staying overnight.

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 Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition and a Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com or her new website at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.