Cute is as cute does

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As the leading long-term care professional publication, we know ahead of time that certain columns will provoke conversation and comments. But responses to a column this week about not calling residents “cute” caught me by surprise.

It's a column that stems out of real honest emotion, from a Ohio regional director of therapy operations named Jean Wendland Porter. I thought she made excellent points, while most of the commenters below it missed the point.

No one is saying we all have to be “politically correct,” although people who bemoan our “PC society” often want the excuse to spew venom freely and without consequence. Porter wasn't saying we need to be cold or clinical with residents. What she was advising is really an offshoot of a topic we discuss ALL THE TIME in long-term care, which is resident choice and preferences.

Individualized care is tough. Long-term care is stacked with residents with increasing levels of co-morbidities. It can be hard to make sure a resident is able to attend all desired activities, to eat or bathe in a manner he/she would like, or to establish a care plan that makes everyone happy. Care coordination is a constant challenge. Administrators or clinical staff may be at the mercy of a physician's decisions, or victims of any number of factors beyond their control.

But it is really, really easy to stop calling a resident “cute” or “sweetie” or “honey.” If they like it, great. If a resident says to you, “No one calls me anything nice anymore. I need a kind word and a hug,” bless those who can provide comfort.

Let's also get real for a second: Certain “terms of endearment” are often used because the staff member doesn't know the resident's name, or didn't look at the chart. Can this be a work-around for a tired certified nursing assistant? Sure. It also could mean a nurse is getting patients confused, which should cause concern when the same nurse is doling out narcotics.

In a 2014 column, Lori Porter* noted how this can be problematic in a survey. Additionally, Wendland Porter's point was about how language can be used to patronize or infantilize. My mother-in-law is fairly pointed in a hospital when asked by a nurse, “How are we doing today?” She'll reply, “I don't know how you are. I'm OK.” Personally, I never minded when people in Baltimore would call me “hon,” because it's practically the motto of the city. But woe unto a person who orders me to smile.

There's no universe in which asking people to use respectful language is indicative of turning long-term care into a place run by robots. Stop assuming that what you prefer is what your residents would prefer. If you don't like the way someone is talking to you, you can leave. Most of your residents can't.

Elizabeth's Etiquette Tip of the Week: It's always a thrill when one of your coworkers is promoted, or perhaps a friend was just hired at your company. But if it's not YOUR news — you must wait to share it until the news is official. No social media, no emailing other people, no talking to anyone about it (beyond with your pets). If you break this etiquette tip remember: What goes around comes around.

*No relation between Porters. 

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor of McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Follow her @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

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 Marty Stempniak.