The ability to see beyond constraints and find ways to humanize healthcare has won a Norwich, N.Y., nursing home the Marriott Service Excellence Award for Vision.
In late 1995, some 25 staffers, residents and family members of the United Methodist Homes' Pearl and Everett Gilmour Health Care Facility met to discuss ways to improve life at the 80-bed nursing home in south central New York state. The gathering launched what is called the Quality of Life program.
"During our regular quarterly quality assurance meeting, we decided to do something above and beyond to change the environment of the facility," said Irene E. Rathke, its vice president and administrator. "So we formed a committee to discuss how we would operate if there were no constrictions."
The goal was to desterilize the nursing home environment by fulfilling three objectives:
Building staff morale and seeking employee assistance in improving relations with residents.
Including residents, families and staff on all committees.
Empowering residents to make more of their own personal-care choices.
To meet these objectives, four action groups were formed with representation of staff, residents and family members.
The Dignity group is designed to help staff understand the perspective of residents.
"We try to make staff more sensitive to residents' rights and lifestyle," said Brian Burchill, director of plant operations and chairman of the group.
His group is responsible for the "Stand in their Shoes" training program that each staff member must participate in once a year.
"It shows the staff what it is like to have to live with some type of disability, such as vision or hearing loss," Burchill said.
The Staff Worklife group helps to select employee group activities, such as softball and bowling. The group also recommended that staff wear colored scrubs instead of the typical white uniforms associated with institutions.
"You can feel a difference in the morale of the staff," Rathke said. "About two-thirds of the staff is involved consistently with the program."
The two other groups-Home-Like Environment and the Dining Room Experience-work to improve the life of the residents. Families and residents are encouraged to bring in pieces of their favorite home furnishings and artwork.
"We added plants to the dining room area, changed the color of the linens and have buffet-style service," said Jeanette Murphy, dietary aide and chairwoman of the dining room group.
The Quality of Life program added nothing to Gilmour's operating budget.
"We collected $2,000 through fund-raising activity, which we used for our summer picnic, Thanksgiving and Christmas party, and other resident/family programs," Rathke said.
Burchill and Rathke said the program will continue to evolve.
"Collectively, you can do anything you want to, and it doesn't have to cost a lot," Rathke said. "But it's important the change is made gradually, rather than all at once."