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Student Experience – Erika Young

November 26, 2021
MHLP Senior Care Student Experience Erika Young

Erika Young led a quality improvement project for a long-term care home provider – relaunching a Family Council that is enabling family members and caregivers to be more engaged in the operations of the care home and ultimately improve quality of care for residents.

What is a Family Council?

A Family Council is a group of people – usually family members and caregivers – who regularly meet to share ideas and voice concerns about issues affecting the quality of life of people in long-term care. It’s a legislated requirement in Ontario that long term care homes have a Family Council. This isn’t the case in BC, although individual service providers may choose to have Family Councils.

How did you get involved?

Dr. Jennifer Baumbusch, the former program director for the UBC Master of Health Leadership and Policy (MHLP) in Seniors Care, asked our class if anyone was interested in volunteering at the Fair Haven Homes Society to relaunch Family Councils at their two care homes in Burnaby and Vancouver. I had some experience with Family Councils from my career as a recreation therapist at a long-term care home in Ontario. I saw this as a good opportunity to expand my learning, work one-on-one with a local organization and see first-hand how long-term care differs between the provinces. It was a good sign for me that this particular home wanted to hear the voices of families to help provide better care to their residents.

What were your responsibilities?

Although Fair Haven had a Family Council, the group had not met since the fall of 2019. I was tasked with relaunching the Family Council. After meeting with the CEO of Fair Haven to learn about the organization and its experience with Family Councils, I researched best practices for Family Councils across North America. This led me to develop a structure of accountability and meaningful engagement, which included terms of reference and guidelines, engaging members and empowering the group to be self-governing and sustainable. A common issue is that these groups often start out strong and then fizzle out. So I focused on strategies for recruitment and encouraging participation. I hosted an Open House to raise awareness of the concept and then developed a terms of reference to define roles and keep everyone accountable. Family Councils need to be safe spaces for people to voice concerns, yet they are much more than this. They are an opportunity for Family Council members to collaborate and problem solve with the facility.

How has the Family Council evolved?

We had a very good turnout for the Open House. I followed this up with a survey, which affirmed that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. The group is now meeting every month or so to continue laying the foundation for their work.

As a facilitator, my role is not to say “my research has given me the authority to tell you what to do” but rather to make sure that the people who are on the council are aware of best practices and developing the guidelines that work for them. This also enables me to step back and feel confident that they have the knowledge and momentum to continue from here.

Tell us about your professional background.

I worked as a recreation therapist, initially in the mental health field and then for five years within long-term care, including during the COVID-19 crisis. The management of the home where I was working left on sick leave, many staff were not at work and many lives were lost. It was extremely difficult. Caregivers and family members were not able to visit their loved ones due to the focus on physical health and disease at the expense of psychological and social needs. I tried to fight for the voices and the lives of these people living in my home, but frontline workers are not always listened to.

This experience made me really think about the ethical dilemmas within our health-care system and the crucial need to advocate for vulnerable populations. When I saw an ad for the MHLP on my Facebook page, I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about the complex interconnections that make up seniors care and gain the business and leadership skills to make a difference within this field.

What’s been your experience of the MHLP so far?

The focus on leadership through the business courses has been helpful. In my role with the Family Council, for example, I have been able to talk more confidently with stakeholders and have been more conscious of the need to include diverse perspectives.

The health-care courses have built on my current knowledge and broadened my understanding of the system. One course that really resonated for me was on philosophies of care. It planted the seed for how I want to move forward in my career and has helped me articulate some of my goals.

Ultimately, both the business and health-care courses remind me that it all comes down to values. Within health care, your values as an organization and philosophy of care determine how you treat your employees, your residents and their family members. I want to create a difference and find ways to make meaningful and sustainable change to quality of care. For me, that will definitely include a focus on psychosocial well-being.

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