Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Although your residents, patients and employees are top priority, we all know there is another important group that is trying to cope with the challenges of COVID-19 … the families of your residents and patients.

If you’re wondering what they are thinking and feeling right now, we recently reached out to the families of 2,500 people living in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, inviting them to complete a brief survey focused on their experience during the pandemic.

The most illuminating results of our Family Pandemic survey reveal a strong connection between a facility’s communication efforts and family opinions about quality.

Family members who feel they are not well informed on facility COVID status were:

  • 7x more likely to say the facility does not provide quality services and
  • 9x less likely to recommend the facility to others

Family members who feel they are not well informed about the condition of their loved one were:

  • 21x as likely to say they are not confident about resident safety and
  • 22x as likely to say they are not confident that their loved one is well cared for

Clearly, lack of communication to families significantly impacts their perception of quality services.

Positive praise

By providing an option to respond to a write-in question, we learned what is top of mind for family members, getting a close-up look at what families are personally thinking and feeling. The good news is that responses were overwhelmingly positive. Families recognize the toll that is placed on staff and many comments expressed deep appreciation and gratitude to the care being given to their loved one.

But it’s in these comments where we begin to more fully realize the fears and heartaches of families, and gain insight into the emotional stress they’re feeling.

Feelings of loss and helplessness

Many comments conveyed the pain of not being able to interact in person with their loved one.  You can hear the sense of loss and feelings of helplessness in these remarks

From a son:

“Sometimes, when I talk with my dad on the phone, he seems confused. This is new … he was always bright and clearheaded, but now he seems kind of foggy. I know he’s lonely, but I’m really concerned about the decline in his thinking.”

From a daughter:

“I live close to the facility so was able to routinely visit my mom before the pandemic. I always made sure her fingernails and toenails were trimmed, and I would polish them. I would curl her hair and apply lipstick and a little blush. It always made her feel pretty. I don’t think anyone is doing that for her now. I feel so sad.”

From a spouse:

“My wife has dementia. Before March, I saw her every day. I was able to visit with her, encourage her to eat, make her laugh and give her hugs. Now, I can’t be with her. I need to know she’s safe. All I have to hang onto is the information that I can get from staff.”

Information is the life thread that families depend on. They want to be kept informed about the status of their loved one and feel confident they are getting good care. They want to know what steps are being taken to keep residents safe and that staff are doing everything possible to protect residents from the virus. And they want to know that actions are being taken to reduce loneliness and isolation.

If no effort is made to provide information or maintain communication with families, family members are left to feel frightened and desperate about the care and safety of their loved one.

The one thing …

The most significant thing we learned from all of the data – both the numbers and the comments – is something that is very actionable for facilities: What families need from providers right now all boils down to consistent communication. To secure the trust and confidence of family members, take deliberate steps to keep families informed.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.