Improve Your Family Member's Nursing Home Care By Starting A Family Council

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 guarantees families' right to form a family council where members can discuss issues that concern them. If your nursing home doesn't have a council, you can organize one yourself by contacting other residents' family members to find individuals interested in helping you plan and execute the first meeting. Once you have people willing to participate, schedule a meeting with the nursing home administrator to work out the details. The nursing home must provide the council with meeting space and assign a member of its staff to assist the council and address any grievances it has with the facility. If you need additional assistance in putting your council together, contact your state or local long-term-care ombudsman for assistance.

Organizing a family council is often easier than sustaining one, because family members' initial enthusiasm is eventually dampened by day-to-day responsibilities. One way to encourage regular participation is to plan a highly relevant program of meeting topics to keep members engaged and motivated.

Project Planning

A special project serves as an effective team-building exercise that encourages the council and the facility administration to work together in a positive way. Project ideas should be realistic in scope and duration, and they might include anything from publishing a Facebook page for family members to creating a volunteer program with a local high-school group.

Have a Party

Once or twice each year, replace a regular meeting with a fun open-house event where new families can learn about your council, and residents, family members and staff can interact in a casual, social environment. Plan some games and activities to help break the ice.

Social Planning

Social events give residents something to look forward to, and planning them makes council participation fun for family members. These events offer everyone additional opportunities to share support and fellowship as well. Family nights and live entertainment are two ideas worth exploring.


Nursing homes are heavily regulated, and it's not unusual for well-intentioned facility managers' hands to be tied by laws limiting options for resolving concerns. This presents an excellent opportunity for family councils to work with their facilities to effect change by lobbying regulatory entities. Existing advocacy groups will appreciate the help, and they're a great source of guest speakers for your meetings.

Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming can provide relatively quick solutions to day-to-day issues involving personal care, medication distribution and securing belongings. In fact, your council may want to add a brainstorming session to each meeting agenda to keep the group feeling productive. Keep the sessions short -- 5 minutes, for example -- and focused on one narrow topic. Members should share any solution that pops into their minds, without judging whether the ideas are good ones. The group leader writes each one down, and the group discusses them afterwards.

Contact a nursing home, like Regina Nursing Center, for more help.