Responding to Family Members’ “On-the Spot” Questions

Let’s paint the picture: one staff member is off sick today and you are covering for her; you are in the middle of setting up materials and the room for the next program (one that you personally haven’t run for years!); a volunteer for this afternoon’s program called in to say she couldn’t make it in today; and then it happens – a family member approaches you to ask about their mother’s participation (or perceived lack of participation) in your programs.

Sound familiar? Do families hover in the wings, waiting for that ideal moment when you are up to your elbows in “whatever”? Why do they wait for such moments in your life!?

Okay, so they probably don’t, but it can seem that way. Why? Because you are a very busy person, working to tight timelines, and dealing with complex and challenging issues. So the reality is that apart from scheduled meetings and conferences, there is seldom a “perfect” time for family members to approach you and ask about their loved one.

If you work in long term care, you know that family members are a primary customer that requires our best, in terms of the provision of great customer service. If they have a concern, they are much more likely to lodge a complaint than a resident. An upset family member will tell many others about their negative experience.

So now the question is, how do you respond well to such on-the-spot inquiries? You want to be professional and polite, and at the same time, be respectful of your own time. Here are some basic strategies to help you navigate these communication waters:

1) As hard as it may be, set whatever you are doing aside, turn and look at the person, smile, tell them you will be pleased to help them, and ask them exactly what is it they want to know.

2) Listen to what they are saying, and in your mind, distill it down to the “core” – in other words, exactly what they want to know. Reaffirm what they have asked (i.e. tell them what you have heard them say), and once you have agreement, you now have one of two choices:

a) If you simply do not have time, tell them you will help them, explain what it is you have to do right now, and ask them when would be a good time for them to meet with you, after your prior commitment.


b) Deal with their inquiry right then (remember, focus on the core of what they have asked – don’t elaborate, otherwise it might end up going down another longer, more time consuming path).

Our experience suggests that many family questions are of the “how much” and “how well” variety of resident engagement. Turning to specific resident attendance and performance records will help families in two key ways. First, it will confirm exactly how much and how well the resident is engaged – which is often what they want to know. Secondly, it will provide them with reassurance that you are tending to their loved one – that you are keeping track, not letting anyone fall through the cracks, and providing programs that are within the resident’s ability level.

If you are using ActivityPro, pulling up the Resident-Family Report on your tablet or laptop is an excellent way to show family members how much the person is engaged. So whether they want to know what the person has done this week, this past month, or even for the past year, you will have that information at your fingertips. This not only saves you time, but again provides that family with the reassurance that their family member is important to you too.

To find out how ActivityPro can help you to be better prepared for those tough on the spot questions call us today at 1-888-898-0098, getting started  with ActivityPro is quick and easy!

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