June 13th, 2011 at 8:14 am
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Nursing home communication: late night phone calls

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

The call came at 2:30 AM when I was soundly sleeping. So deep was my sleep that I did not make it to the telephone before the last ring. The Caller ID displayed the nursing home’s number. When a nursing home calls in the wee hours, what news might a family caregiver expect? Some caregivers already know what we assume in the middle of the night when the telephone rings for any reason.

The late night phone calls

For better or for worse, many family caregivers might automatically assume the caller will be the bearer of bad news. A loved one may have been transported to the hospital overnight to a critical care or intensive care unit. Worse, a loved one may have died in his or her sleep. Either way, the news can be distressing to some family caregivers.

Sometimes nursing home staff call in the middle of the night (or anytime, for that matter) for other emergencies such as an elder’s vital signs which may be indicators that your loved one may not make it through the night. In my opinion, that’s customer service at its finest, regardless of how distressing the news may be.

Many years ago, when I worked in the long-term care industry, I joined nursing home staff in the wee hours on a search for an elderly gentleman who’d somehow managed to wander off. Our team of paid staff and former managers, including me, looked in all of the obvious places around town. Once we’d crossed the obvious places off the list, we upped the ante and started searching along ravines, rivers and railroad tracks.

The story did have a happy ending at about 6:00 AM when a police officer happened to see the gentleman walking on a country road. All is well that ends well, I thought.

Communication is everything

In my mother’s case, I was told that she had “just” fallen off her bed.

I was impressed with the timeliness of the call, as I have never had a nursing home call me in the middle of the night, other than when I was a former management member on-call. My first questions were whether my mother was awake and whether she was talking. She was. The caller proceeded to inform me voluntarily that she had touched Mom on various parts of her body to determine whether anywhere hurt and was pleased to report that my Mom had said no and did not seem to be in any pain. Truly impressive communication and handling, I thought.

So impressive was the call and nature of the nursing home’s communication that I decided–based on all available information known to me and the nursing home’s staff at that moment in time–both Mom and I could go back to sleep. Tomorrow is another day. I visited Mom early the very next day. I told her she had fallen from her bed.

I couldn’t ask for more from the nursing staff by way of timely communication. I returned to sleep that night knowing that all was well. If all was not well, I knew I’d get another call. I appreciate being called by the nursing staff at least a couple of times each week regardless of the time of the call. The best thing is that I have never requested a call. Nursing staff on my mother’s unit clearly are on top of their business.

My hat’s off to all professional nurses who care and share!

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