Nursing Home Advocates Struggle to Find Volunteers
A Wake County committee is having difficulty attracting and retaining members who play a large role in advocating for nursing home patients. And the problem isn’t limited to Wake County.
By Ariella Monti
A committee that plays an important role in the health and well being of residents in Wake County’s nursing homes is having trouble attracting and retaining new members.
The Wake County Nursing Home Citizens Advisory Committee is tasked with making quarterly visits to the county’s 22 nursing homes. Visits are unannounced and can happen during all times of the day and week. Members can spend up to five hours at each facility taking notes on the physical environment, patient care and the patients’ quality of life. Afterward, members speak with a director to review their findings and make suggestions.
State law requires each county to have a committee to oversee adult care homes and advocate for patients.
While the committee can have up to 30 members, right now they’re working with 15, said Wake County committee chair Connie Burbank.
“We’re looking for people who are very passionate,” she said. “Mostly everybody that does become a member has had a loved one in some kind of facility.”
During the past two years, Burbank said that the committee is attracting more working people. But, the committee’s time requirements often make it difficult to be a member with a full-time job.
After nursing home review visits, members write up a detailed report outlining their observations. The group also has monthly meetings which last about one to two hours.
To become a member, volunteers must also attend a training course that only takes place during the day, in the middle of the week. The training course is followed by a training visit to a nursing home, which again, is only during the week. Training is not done immediately, and it could take up to three months to begin the training process.
While it is not required, members are also encouraged to attend workshops and conferences.
“Some people want to do just the visits,” said Burbank who has been on the committee for six years. “You have to do it all.”
Sharon Wilder, the state long term care ombudsman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that training amounts to 15 to 20 hours and is mandated by state law. “All of this is important for them to be effective in their visits with residents,” she said. Ideally, members would have even more training.
Some regions have tried offering training sessions on the weekends, but stopped because of the lack of attendance.
“I think it is most important that individuals, who think they would like to volunteer for a CAC, seek more information about the required duties of a committee member, which is more than other types of county-based committees,” said Wilder.
The committee also has more young adults joining, but it can become difficult for those who have young children and are active in other organizations.
Burbank said that she tries to split her members into teams based on their proximity to one another. This makes it easier for members to go on nursing home visits. A state statute requires that a majority of team members must be present on each site visit. Each team should have three to five members, but Burbank said it can be hard for the group to comply.
Members do get a small stipend for attending meetings and are partially reimbursed for gas, but they aren’t compensated for any workshops or conferences they attend.
The membership problem isn’t just an issue in Wake County. Twice a year, Burbank meets with other committee chairs throughout the Triangle for leadership meetings. She said membership is a reoccurring theme.
Finding current members who are willing to move up into leadership roles is also a daunting task. Burbank has been the chair for five years. Burbank, who is a retired high school science teacher, logs about 300 miles and 100 hours of committee work each quarter.
“There are a few other counties – less than 20 – that are currently facing challenges in recruiting community citizens to serve on CAC committees,” said Wilder in an email. When asked why these types of committees have problems attracting and retaining members, she said, “It is hard to generalize due to the number of variables that may be at play in a given county.”
Out of the state’s 100 counties, she said that there are about 10 where chronic vacancies are a problem. Typically, these are smaller, rural counties with few facilities.
Burbank said that the Wake County CAC happens to be very active. Being that Wake County is a more urban county, it has significantly more nursing homes compared to rural counties, which may have only one or two. Meetings are also held monthly instead of quarterly, like a lot of other counties. Burbank often has speakers at these meetings who provide information or education on various topics relating to care for the elderly.
While Burbank is thrilled more young people are taking an interest in the care for the elderly, the committee will begin advertising at senior centers, churches and other organizations that tend to attract retired residents. Members who are retired could potentially have more time.
The committee used to have more retired and active elderly members, but Burbank said many started to resign after everything from paperwork to meeting scheduling went digital. Members who were not computer savvy had difficulty keeping up with emails and digital reports. “Because they didn’t use computers, the communication between them became more difficult,” said Burbank.
Burbank appealed to Wake County Commissioners for help with the marketing campaign during her annual report to them. Commissioners agreed to fund the printing of the posters which will be put up throughout the county and to put the vacancy on the website.
Commissioners also considered changing some rules that would make serving on this committee a requirement before being appointed to another one. County staff is also looking into some kind of reimbursement for the additional workshops and conferences volunteers attend.