FRIA on Nursing Home Family Councils

Posted by Dr. El - October 27, 2009 - Resident/Family councils - No Comments
Today, guest poster Karlin Mbah, of the New York-based organization Friends and Relatives of the Institutionalized Aged, explains what Family Councils are and how they can work with nursing homes to improve care for the residents. In a later post, she’ll discuss ways to create a successful family council.
Background on FRIA and Karlin Mbah:
FRIA: The Voice and Resource for Quality Long Term Care is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering the dignity and independence of seniors in long term care settings, with a special focus on nursing home residents, and to ensuring that they receive prompt, high quality compassionate care. We seek to accomplish this by helping friends and relatives become more informed and effective caregivers for the needs of their loved ones.
Karlin Mbah is the Family Council Coordinator and Policy Advocate for FRIA. As the Family Council Coordinator, Ms. Mbah provides technical support and assistance to Family Councils in the New York City greater metropolitan area.
Currently FRIA conducts quarterly “Advocates of Nursing Home Reform” (ANHR) meetings at which Family Council members and leaders from all over the City meet to discuss issues and projects in their nursing homes. FRIA will also be assisting ANHR members in publishing a quarterly newsletter, by and for Family Councils, which will begin distribution in 2010.
Ms. Mbah also works on FRIA’s free telephone helpline (212-732-4455) which is open M-F 10AM-5PM to answer your questions about long term care.
Parts of this blog contribution were taken from FRIA’s Family Council Manual and Tool Kit by Jean Murphy and Jessica Herold.
Family Councils:
What is a Family Council?
Family Councils can play a very important role in helping residents of a nursing home have good quality of care and quality of life. A typical Family Council is a group of committed families and friends of nursing home residents who work together to improve the quality of life for all residents in a particular facility. For simplicity, I will refer to Family Councils and their members as families, but friends, partners, significant others, and all regular caregivers participate equally in Family Councils and are included when I refer to “families.”
Family Councils have the right to organize under the law. Under Federal Law, the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act (OBRA ’97) recognizes that families are an important part of a nursing home community and serve as advocates for good care. The Act guarantees families of nursing home residents the right to meet together in a facility, and to be provided with space, privacy and staff assistance, if sought. Administrators are required to listen to, and act upon, the recommendations and grievances of Family Councils. Several States, including New York, have strengthened and empowered Family Councils by enacting laws that give additional rights and protections to councils, beyond those provided by federal law.
What Do Family Councils Do?

Family Councils bring about positive change in nursing homes. The structure and activities of councils vary greatly, depending on their membership and the issues they decide to address. Some typical Family Council activities include:
· Welcoming new families and friends to the nursing home
· Offering support to each other
· Raising concerns and complaints and working to resolve them
· Providing education and information
· Improving communications with the home
· Arranging joint activities for families, friends and residents
· Recognizing staff for good work
· Connecting to community resources
· Speaking out on public issues
· Taking the lead in bringing new models of long term care to their communities, such as person centered care, also known as Culture Change.
Family Councils allow a venue for families to address their concerns in a safe setting and get support for the resolution of these concerns. Nursing home staff attend Family Council meetings by invitation only and must respond to recommendations and grievances presented by the council. These recommendations and concerns can be made in the name of the group, thus providing anonymity to individuals and a united front of families working for better care.