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Consumer Education Initiative Encourages Growth of Culture Change Movement

June 20, 2012

In 1997, Lifespan — an organization that provides aging-related assistance to elders in the Rochester, New York area — convened a three-day meeting on the subject of culture change in long-term care facilities. But not all of the 33 participants in the meeting used the term “culture change” to describe that concept. Some, like Joanne Rader, called it “individualized care”; others, such as Barry Barkan, referred to it as the “regenerative community” model of care. Nevertheless, each of those terms reflected the same set of values: compassion, self-determination, a home-like atmosphere. “They were all individual names, but when you peeled it back, you saw the same core values and beliefs,” Lifespan’s Rose Marie Fagan said recently.

That 1997 meeting is often described as the birth of the culture change revolution in long-term care. Since then, nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country have embarked on the ongoing journey to change their cultures and make life more individualized and dignified for elders and their caregivers.

In her role at Lifespan — and as the founding executive director of the Pioneer Network — Fagan has spent much of the last 15 years helping providers implement culture change, doing case studies, and conducting research on culture change’s effectiveness and financial viability. But she said that culture change needs to spread faster. “It’s moving like a glacier,” she said. “We knew we needed to get consumers involved.”

To that end, Lifespan has just introduced an initiative designed to educate consumers about the benefits of culture change. The initiative, called Take It On For Mom, is focused on consumers in the Rochester area, but Fagan, the initiative’s director, said that a “byproduct [of Take It On For Mom] is sharing this process with other communities along the way.”

The idea, Fagan said, is to spark broad consumer interest in culture change, which will in turn create a demand for long-term care services that embody culture-change values. In her experience, that is the only way to spread culture change throughout the country. “Consumers need to demand this; we’ve found [change] can’t come from government or regulations,” Fagan said.

The Take It On For Mom website features dozens of resources designed to help consumers seek out quality long-term care for themselves or their loved ones. It also explains exactly what culture change is and why it is important. A list of key questions that should be asked of nursing home staff members is also featured, as are ways to get involved in the culture change movement.

Fagan acknowledges that discussing long-term care can be a difficult task for many people. As she puts it, “How do you get people interested in a topic no one wants to talk about?” The resources included in the Take It On For Mom website make such discussions easier by empowering consumers with information about culture change.

Fagan also stressed the critical role that direct-care workers play in any culture-change journey. Direct-care workers “provide sacred work in the most universal sense of the word,” she said. Facilities that embrace culture change generally show more respect for direct-care work, Fagan said, by actively soliciting their input on care decisions and by providing education and career-advancement opportunities. There are many care facilities across the U.S. that treat their direct-care workers with honor, “valuing them for what they know,” Fagan said.

Consumers that have learned about culture change are not likely to give their business to nursing homes that have resisted culture change implementation. In this way, consumers will both demand and drive the culture change movement forward at a significantly faster pace.

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