The Importance and Value of Resident Councils
By Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

Organizing and implementing an empowered Resident Council is a challenge to many activity professionals. In theory, the Council is a formal group of residents who come together as one collective voice, to share ideas or concerns about issues and events in the facility. In most nursing homes, the number of residents who can assume an advocacy role is small. The first task the activity professional must introduce to the members of the council is to encourage those who attend the meeting to advocate for their peers. Many residents view the council as a place to air personal complaints. Although, individual concerns should be shared, the general membership needs to see part of their role as looking out for their less able peers. Open discussion of the purpose of the council, how some concerns or needs are not isolated and the residents need to be supportive of each other, and introducing positive means to implement change as a group can begin to suggest the council is not “all about me”.

The council can be organized anyway the residents want it to be organized. Having the traditional officers of President, Vice-President, etc., is not required. Sometimes it is difficult to find four residents capable and willing to assume these leadership roles. Having a Chairperson or Unit Representative is acceptable, as long as the residents are involved in this decision. It would be appropriate to create by-laws for the council, defining how the council is organized and how concerns are communicated. If officers are in place, time limits of office and methods to re-elect officers should be defined.

One of the major goals of the council is to follow up on any resident concerns. If it is an individual concern, the resident should be guided to more immediate means to address the problem. For a resident to wait two weeks for a Council meeting to voice a concern is too long to wait. Periodic council meetings should introduce and review the individual complaint process with the residents. The department heads may attend the meeting and encourage residents to come to them directly and immediately if a problem occurs within their department. The administrator should also share an open door policy regarding individual concerns. If the individual concerns are shared by many or they are not addressed to the individual resident’s satisfaction, then the council should take action. There should be a formal and written process to document resident concerns and communicate them to the responsible department head. The written response and proposed resolution to the concern should be returned to the council by the following meeting for discussion and hopeful conclusion. Many facilities create a “Resident Council Concern” form for this purpose.

Formal minutes of the meeting should be maintained. They should follow the standard meeting minutes format which would include date and time of meeting, a discussion of unfinished or “old” business, and introduction of new business. It is good practice to discuss any concern that was mentioned in the previous meeting, following up on any resolutions and if the residents are satisfied with the outcome. It is also good practice to go through each department systematically, noting positive comments as well. The meeting can be used as a means to make “announcements” and share facility news which can be included in the minutes. The minutes should be typed and neatly filed into a binder, kept in chronological order.

If one particular department frequently is the focus of resident concerns, that department head should be invited to the meeting. This would allow open and direct discussion of the situation as well as immediate response to any introduced concerns. Any staff member who attends any meeting should be involved as an invited guest. The staff member who may be facilitating the council should remind the residents of this right periodically and offer them the opportunity to meet privately, if they so desire.

The Council can be involved in productive and positive activities. Using the council as a means to manage election information and complete absentee ballots is effective. The Council may invite local politicians to speak at the facility. Developing committees is another positive task for the council. Various committees can focus on welcoming new residents, selecting entertainment or bus trip locations. Some councils raise funds for a variety of uses. Any council fund raising should be announced as such. The residents should collectively decide how any funds are distributed. Donating to local charities or purchasing something expensive that the entire resident population can enjoy such as a large screen television would be appropriate. Compete records of funds raised and disbursements should be maintained.

A positive and productive council is a rewarding experience for both the residents and staff who may be involved. Having an administrator and facility staff that understand the purpose of the Council and believe in supporting the resident’s right to speak out and make a difference in their community will contribute to your council’s success.

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Developing a Resident Council 

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