Advocating for loved ones

There are many things family and friends can do to offer support for loved ones who are in long-term care.

For clients of the health care system and especially clients of long term care, the advocacy of family and friends on their behalf is invaluable. The most vulnerable in our community can be lost in the system without the ongoing support of their family and friends. As family and friend advocates, there are steps you can take to empower yourselves as you support your loved ones.

First, to be an advocate it is important that you visit your loved ones often, so you can recognize any deterioration of care that could occur. Frequent visits will allow you to distinguish between declines in health that are due to health conditions versus neglect in care.

Second, become informed on the processes of care your loved one requires. Ensure that the equipment, diet  and care practices being utilized are appropriate.  Do some research and be aware of alternative methods and equipment that might better suit your loved one.  Do not be afraid to get a second opinion. Changes in care can take some time and persistence, but concerns from family and friends are often met with swifter resolution and less resistance than when employed caregivers speak out.  Understand that care aides and nurses are sometimes limited in their ability to advocate and that is why you are so important.

Third, get to know the caregivers/providers. If your loved one has lost the ability to communicate or suffers from diminished mental capacities, they need you to communicate for them. The caregivers may be unaware of their preferences: something as simple as preferring honey in their tea or certain music that relaxes them may be unknown by the nurses and care aides.  When you visit often you can make new staff aware of these preferences. Be friendly with the caregivers so when you approach them to advocate they are receptive to you. Know the supervisors of care, such as doctors, employers and social service workers, so if your concerns fall on deaf ears you can contact the supervisory staff to resolve any potential issues.

Fourth, be aware of your loved one’s rights.  On the rare occasion that you suspect a legal right is being abused and that the supervisory staff has not been able to address the issue and investigate the matter, contact the police. You can file a non-emergency report and the police will follow up.  This step is not to be taken lightly and you should exhaust other efforts to resolve the issue before talking to police.

Finally, do not underestimate the difference you can make by assisting with the care your loved one receives. Whether assisting to eat, groom or take part in an activity, you can brighten your loved one’s life one day at a time.  Your supportive efforts will not go unnoticed by the care staff and they will most likely be more receptive and accommodating to any concerns/requests you have as a result.

We are fortunate to live in a country where health care is available to all, but our system can sometimes be overburdened and underfunded, putting a strain on clients of long-term care. As advocates we can become empowered within the system to make change and improve the quality of care our family and friends receive.

Justine Reams is a first-year Okanagan College student, working towards her bachelor’s degree in social work. She wrote this article as an assignment for her English 100 class. As a registered care aide, Reams has experience advocating for clients, and the material for this article came from her personal experience working within the health care system.