Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

In the medically focused setting of long-term care, psychologists are mindful of the emotional environment. While most psychologists almost exclusively address the mental health of the residents due to the current reimbursement system, we’re also aware of the interactions between staff members, families, the physical setting and the organizational culture.

Here are some of the important things psychologists might do to address the emotional climate of long-term care:

  1. Every resident would be evaluated by the psychologist upon admission (just like other disciplines), because entry into long-term care can be very stressful.
  2. Every staff member would have access to the counseling services of an Employee Assistance Program, because working in LTC can be very stressful.
  3. Family members would be able to join regular educational groups so that they better understand the illness(es) of their loved one, how the treatment team works, and how to best manage their important role on the team.
  4. Administrators, department heads, charge nurses and others in managerial roles would be given management training so that they’d have the skills they need to lead those on their teams, because chances are they didn’t learn management strategies in school.
  5. Treatment teams would learn communication skills that enhance collaboration between disciplines and improve interactions with residents and families.
  6. All staff members would be trained in non-pharmacological approaches to dementia care, because the porter needs to know what to do too.
  7. Interdisciplinary team members would work together to assist residents in attending recreational activities because therapeutic recreation is a vital part of maintaining good mental health.
  8. Residents would be encouraged to take on leadership roles as much as possible, whether it’s increased understanding of their illnesses and course of treatment, becoming part of the welcoming committee or resident counsel, or finding ways to continue acting as the matriarch or patriarch of their families.
  9. Nursing stations, supply closets and other care areas would be organized for efficiency and heating/cooling problems would be swiftly addressed. Disorganization affects staff morale and the temperature of the environment impacts the well-being of elders and others.
  10. Employee recognition programs and other tools would be used to acknowledge the efforts of workers and help reinforce the positive, caring culture of the organization.

While psychologists are trained to work with residents individually and in groups, they also have a wealth of skills and knowledge to help implement other programs and ideas. If you’re planning additional training or would like to address identified problems within your facility, you might solicit the input of your consulting psychologists. Perhaps they’ve been observing their surroundings and are hoping you’d ask.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, and an accomplished speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. This blog complements her award-winning website, MyBetterNursingHome.com, which has more on how to create long-term care where EVERYBODY thrives.