Remember to let your residents test drive

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Earlier this week I landed in the hospital, a story filled with highs and lows that I won't bore you with. But I did want to share what I learned about a topic near and dear to the hearts of long-term care operators.

Which is overbed tables.

My new feelings about these tables was somewhat ironic given that for many years I've written our Industry Directory Purchasing Report article on them and thought, “What else is there that someone could possibly say about overbed tables?”

Let me tell you, there's more than you think. While hospitalized, I was fortunate that I was quickly well enough to sit up and work. But the best way to do that from a hospital bed is via an overbed table, especially when you're strapped to various monitors. The overbed table I was using, however, was hard to maneuver. The wheels didn't move easily, it was hard to adjust with the hospital bed, difficult to figure out how to adjust it or close the drawers, and so on. Even my doctor had a hard time moving it around.

At some point I said, “Ugh, who made this?” And maybe even more importantly, didn't they try it out before buying it?

The overbed table, of course, was not really a reflection on the quality of care I received (excellent), my providers (outstanding) or even the atmosphere of the setting (along the lines of a Ritz Carlton). It just made me grumpier. And the experience made me think about long-term care residents spending a lot of time in bed.

Granted, most of them probably aren't trying to spend a full day typing away on their computers. But a lot of them may want to sit up and use the table for laptop-type activities, or to eat while reading or watching television.

Over the years, administrators have occasionally told me how they don't only have staff try out beds and other furniture, but they also involve residents. In one 2013 McKnight's story, an administrator worked with residents and families to select a kidney-shaped overbed table. It was installed in a model room.

But the team “quickly learned that the kidney shape didn't get to the center of the bed, and in order for residents to use the table over the bed, they had to shift to the right. They also found that the table didn't work well with wheelchairs — the base kept getting caught on the wheelchair's gears.”

Many facilities are jettisoning overbed tables, but even if so, the same lessons still apply to other furniture: With resident seating, you must have a resident sit in the chair model to assess depth and arms. With mattresses and beds, you need to have someone lay down in one. I would argue that even with carpeting, there should be ways to test out how easily those in wheelchairs can mauver.

All of this might seem time-consuming or obvious, I realize. But it's not purely a question of resident satisfaction, but rather the way to receive the most bang for your buck when making a major purchase.

You, and your residents, deserve the time to make sure you're going with the best possible choice.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @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.