The long term care industry is seeing a shift in public perception, and it’s due to the advocacy of people like Steve LaForte, Director of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel at Cascadia Healthcare. Here we’ll share five ways senior care advocacy has changed perceptions of the long term care industry.
LaForte emphasizes that better care will shift public perception and result in more seniors pursuing and receiving the care they need. As an LTC professional, you can take the initiative to campaign and advocate for seniors by directing your facilities to provide better care and create a safer environment.
You can listen to LaForte’s insightful interview with LTC Heroes host Peter Murphy Lewis below:
Some misconceptions about LTC are due to a lack of knowing what it is. But others are due to preconceived notions about LTC facilities. If not addressed, such misunderstandings are capable of discouraging seniors from pursuing the care that is right for them. We’ll explore how senior care advocacy works and what it’s doing to help inform the public about the best options for the elderly.
What Is Senior Care Advocacy?
A senior care advocate is a proponent for seniors both outside and inside long-term care facilities. Family members, social interest group members, and LTC facility professionals can all be advocates for the elderly.
As LaForte said on LTC Heroes, “These are our grandparents. They’re our parents. And they’re going to be us eventually. And we made a promise 50 years ago to develop and provide care in a safety net for our vulnerable adults. Now it’s time for us to fulfill it.”
Dedicated advocates work with consumers, caregivers, legislators, and other stakeholders to ensure that their goals are met. These include improving the perception of senior living facilities and allowing more access to affordable and quality senior housing.
Advocates emphasize quality of life in working to make senior living a viable option for more people. The thinking is that, when LTC facilities start to provide better care for their residents, the perceptions about LTC will change. And that will ultimately lead to more people deciding to use LTC. This will, in turn, result in even more advocacy for seniors, as the benefits of LTC will become more apparent to those who champion their rights. The order of the cycle is as follows:
- LTC facilities take steps to improve the quality of care that elders receive.
- Advocacy becomes more focused with more participants.
- Awareness about how LTC works, the benefits it provides, and the options available is increased.
- Affordable care becomes accessible to more seniors.
Why Is Senior Care Advocacy Important For LTC Facilities?
Senior care advocacy has the ability to promote an accurate portrayal of life in LTC facilities. That is important for the long-term sustainability of nursing homes.
Senior care advocacy can take many forms. Organizations like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) advocate for senior adults from a legal standpoint by reaching out to legislators and policymakers about policies that affect seniors. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has also contributed to bettering the quality of long term care provided, which has helped improve perceptions of LTC.
For LaForte, senior care advocacy means both conveying the concerns and priorities of seniors to various policymakers and announcing the message in the public sphere.
LTC facilities can do their part to advocate for seniors by:
- Establishing volunteer programs. Some LTCs have public service requirements and others provide a safe space for residents to become involved in their community while also having tie-ups with national organizations that offer volunteer programs, such as the American Red Cross.
- Providing opportunities for healthy lifestyles. Some facilities are revamping fitness centers, making them healthier, more vibrant spaces that invite seniors to participate in physical activities. Your facility can set up mental awareness camps or promote weekly activities that promote both cognitive and physical health.
- Staying in touch with residents’ children and other relatives. This will assure family members that their loved ones are receiving excellent care. It can also enhance the overall experience of residents, as their expectations can be better articulated. Set up family meetings or a drive to send postcards and drawings to keep families in the loop of all updates and happenings. Failure to facilitate such communication can induce stress and anxiety in both seniors and their families.
- Promoting emotional wellness. Provide information about relevant services to seniors and their families. You can also create specific therapeutic opportunities for residents with dementia or mental illness.
- Sharing case-specific information as necessary. This will allow residents to receive maximum assistance and yield the most benefits from their stay.
- Agreeing to an ethical contract. This will ensure that you and your staff undertake all the responsibilities of seniors without judgment, contempt, or deceit.
How Covid-19 Helped Advance Senior Care Advocacy
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, senior care advocates were guiding a shift from an institutional model to one that centers on people and community living. Of course, further awareness about how residents engage in activities is still required.
The global pandemic hit the elderly community especially hard, as seniors living away from their families were in danger of not receiving sufficient medical attention and more prone to anxiety and depression resulting from social isolation.
Even though LTC professionals made every effort to protect residents, the rate of infection in LTC facilities was rather severe. According to the CDC, over 80% of COVID-related fatalities in the US were people over the age of 65. And about one-third of LTC facilities reported fatalities. The adjusted mortality rate for assisted living facilities was 19.3 deaths per 1,000 people, while the rate for skilled nursing settings was 59.6 deaths per 1,000 residents.
Even with the wide availability of vaccines, seniors are still dying in LTC facilities. During the first two weeks of May of 2021, there were 472 deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes. While that is significant progress from the 10,675 deaths in nursing homes from the first two weeks of January, it is still troubling.
The onset of the pandemic served as a wake-up call for how deeply affected seniors are by infections and contamination rates. Prevention control became difficult, and institutional problems were highlighted. This amplified the measures taken by senior care advocacy groups, and policy changes were imminent. Infection rates were driven down by increased awareness and more attention given to care. These efforts also led to better awareness of how LTC facilities work and forced them to strengthen their infrastructure.
5 misconceptions about LTC that senior care advocacy is changing
1. LTC means the end
When people think of LTC, they often think of the end of life, LaForte notes, saying: “I think that one of the difficulties this industry faces is public perception. And the public perception to some extent of skilled nursing facilities is that it’s a place where old people go to die.”
Senior care advocacy has helped change this perception and present LTC as a transition into another phase of life, where seniors can still be involved in the community and have access to resources that will meet all their needs.
Due to senior care advocacy campaigns such as “The Longest Goodbye,” LTC communities are becoming more inclusive for residents with cognitive impairment, memory loss, and other diseases and disabilities. Campaigning – combined with revolutionary change in LTC facilities – has given new hope to seniors and their families, who are now accepting LTC as a place of independent living.
This means that senior care advocacy has changed perceptions in the LTC industry from one where residents should be institutionalized until death, to an inclusive community of vibrant people living with dignity.
2. A nursing home is an institution
For a lot of people, “LTC facilities” used to conjure up an image of a large building with dim passages, dull strangers, and inconsiderate nurses. For others, it was a sad destination for older adults without better options.
But the perception of LTC facilities has come a long way. Nursing homes are now presented as a community. Advocates emphasize that older adults receive ample opportunities to interact and engage in activities that keep them content and happy.
Other stigmas that advocates are removing are related to inclusiveness. They articulate that LTC communities are now more open and accepting of the needs and concerns of all residents. Further, residents should know that they will retain their independence at an age in which they look to enjoy life in retirement. It should be mentioned that resources that serve their needs and interests will be readily available, from medical services to bingo games and library trips.
3. The bigger the facility, the better the care
While purchasing an expensive item from a massive retailer, like Walmart or Best Buy, might provide one with a sense of relief, that thinking should not be transposed onto matters of health care. Instead, when seeking medical services, one should prioritize culture over growth.
In our interview, LaForte cautioned LTC providers about the pitfalls of getting too big, saying, “My personal bias is I don’t think the big public company model works. It’s too big. It’s too unwieldy.” This, he remarked, means that “they can’t affect a local vision.” He pointed to the differences in regional preferences and requirements. “If you’re in 40 states, from Florida to Washington, it’s tough to understand all those markets,” he opined.
LaForte maintains that long term care should not be driven solely by the rules of capitalism. He noted that larger organizations are mostly concerned with quarterly earnings. “So really, you’re delivering a commodity in healthcare, and healthcare is not a commodity. It’s individualized for communities,” LaForte remarked.
A facility that operates in all fifty states is not as likely to grasp cultural and regional nuances or consider the specific needs of residents. Meanwhile, a smaller facility that only operates in one area can derive a personalized plan for its residents.
Operating on a larger scale can come at a cost. This issue has come to light thanks to the dedication of senior care advocates. The problem isn’t growth but rather the nature and scale of growth; while growth is always a goal, it shouldn’t come at the cost of quality of service.
The Administration on Aging is a government organization that works to ensure that seniors remain independent in their homes and communities. This includes keeping LTC facilities in check and awarding grants to facilities working towards direct services and education to seniors. LTC facilities are, thus, encouraged to meet compliance standards and maintain an appropriate culture as opposed to pursuing unchecked growth.
People Over Paperwork
Most LTC professionals have grown frustrated with paperwork at one point or another. Not only is it time-consuming, but it diverts time and attention away from the needs of residents. While advocacy has improved the quality of life for seniors, it has also resulted in more stringent rules, which require even more paperwork.
On the one hand, regulation is designed to improve awareness and the quality of care. On the other, it is a major burden for caretakers. “Is regulation necessary? Absolutely,” said LaForte. “But let’s do it in a way that accords with common sense.” He mentioned partnering with regulators to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Click here to make your facility compliant with the NJHIN’s 2021 requirements.
Technology has provided a solution to this dilemma. A recent development in LTC is the introduction of advanced software that makes it far easier to stay in compliance with federal regulations, keep track of financials, and stay on top of clinical care. An electronic health record (EHR) allows you to reallocate time that would have been spent on paperwork toward providing the best care possible. Learn more at Experience Care.
4. Home care is always better than LTC/SNF
There is often a push to get seniors out of skilled nursing and into home care. Living at home, though, is not suitable for everyone.
Home care is not affordable for everyone. It also often entails isolation and lack of social interaction that can be harmful to the emotional and mental health of seniors. Instead of being surrounded by like-minded people in their age group, they may spend hours or even days alone. Instead of a community of friends with whom they can engage in lively activities, they may be left with a television, a telephone, and not much else.
As LaForte said on LTC Heroes, “Not everybody can age at home, not everybody can age at home affordably, and not every home can be retrofitted.”
Of course, home care can be a good option for seniors with specific needs, a strong attachment to their homes, or disinterest in the company of others. What is important to note is that neither home care nor LTC is the default. A decision should be reached based on the particular disposition and needs of the senior.
Senior advocacy is helping the elderly community make better decisions about where they want to reside. The benefits of both LTC and home care are presented to them. They can choose between community and constant vigilance in long term care facilities or the comfort of home. Justice in Aging, which fights senior poverty, gives seniors the information they need to make a decision that accords with their economic situation.
5. LTC is the same as acute care
While both provide care for seniors, there is a major difference between long term care and acute care. Acute care is for the treatment of urgent and emergency conditions as well as acute (long-term) illness. LTC facilities, meanwhile, treat stable conditions, provide rehabilitative therapy, and assist with daily living. The goal in LTC is to improve the quality of life, not treat a disease or injury of immediate concern.
LTC facilities are increasingly depicted as communities of older adults receiving the support they need and not helpless adults. This change in perception is, in part, the result of senior care advocates settling for nothing less than the best of care and support from LTC facilities.
The Strong Connection Between Staff and Residents in LTC
Most LTC professionals think of their residents as family on account of the relationships they build over long periods of time. Staffs dedicate themselves to adhering to stringent compliance laws and hence are extremely detail-oriented in providing residents with around-the-clock care and support. This, in turn, makes it significantly easier for the residents to acclimate themselves to a new environment and embrace the community at their facility.
Personalized Care Plans and Individual Attention
In an LTC facility, each individual receives special attention. From meal plans to psychological evaluations, every effort is evaluated to ensure the most appropriate environment for each resident. No two residents are served the same meal the same way. These personalized care plans combined with a sense of community distinguish LTC facilities from acute care and home care.
The National Council Of Aging, Justice in Aging, and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-term Care are just a few of the organizations that advocate for the rights of seniors in the community, both in LTC and elsewhere.
For information on other senior care advocacy groups and organizations and what they do, click here.
As an LTC professional, it is important to be aware of the available resources for seniors. Here is a list of legal, medical, and financial resources for senior citizens, their families and guardians, and caregivers provided by the U.S. government.
LTC facilities can do their part in senior advocacy by signing ethical contracts, providing excellent care, and catering to their residents’ individual needs. Before that, though, they can help alleviate the emotional challenges of transitioning into a new environment by providing seniors and their families with sufficient information about life in a nursing home. Lastly, it is important to inform residents about available resources that can further enrich their lives.
To learn more about senior care advocacy, LTC facilities, and about what we do, subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast here.