Ask the nursing expert ... about challenges with families

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Angel McGarrity-Davis, RN, CDONA, NHA
Angel McGarrity-Davis, RN, CDONA, NHA

Having just dealt with more holidays, how do we LTC nurses deal with residents' families that are feeling guilty and taking it out on us?

Nurses definitely have to take care of the resident and the family, especially at the holidays. The holidays do make people act differently, for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the family members live far away and haven't seen their loved one for a long time. They might feel sad because of the situation or angry with themselves for not visiting sooner. They might be surprised that the resident has declined. All of this makes them fearful of what is next, and makes it hard to feel typical holiday cheer. 

This is when family members do not know how to deal with their emotions, so they lash out at the nurses. Most of the time, family members have not been educated on what to expect when their loved one is in an LTC facility, and what the particular disease process might be.

Remember: They need you as much as your resident does, so put yourself in their shoes. Have compassion, listen to their concerns and treat them with the utmost respect.

Of course, while acknowledging and following HIPAA guidelines, try to educate the family about the most likely decline and what to expect next. Perhaps you can offer relevant literature.

Find a common ground to lighten things up a bit, if possible. When I was a director of nursing meeting family members, I would say that we are all human beings and add that I could not promise there would be no problems. I could promise that if they brought a problem to my attention, I would take care of it. Give the family your cell number — that makes them feel comfortable. 

Honesty and communication are always the keys to a successful relationship.