Nursing Home Advocates Struggle to Find Volunteers

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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.

See a list of Wake County’s Committees and Commissions

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 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 the committee has attracted more working people. But the committee’s time requirements often make it difficult to be a member with a full-time job.

After a nursing home review visit, members write up a detailed report outlining their observations. The group also has monthly meetings that last one to two hours.

The Requirements
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. Members receive a small stipend for attending meetings and are partially reimbursed for gas, but they aren’t compensated for any workshops or conferences they attend.

“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. Ideally, members would have even more training, she said.

“All of this is important for them to be effective in their visits with residents,” she said.

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,” Wilder said.

Finding Members
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 recurring 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. The 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,” Wilder said in an email.

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.

When asked why these types of committees have problems attracting and retaining members, Wilder said, “It is hard to generalize due to the number of variables that may be at play in a given county.”

Burbank said the Wake County CAC happens to be very active. Because Wake County is more urban, 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.

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. The committee will begin advertising at senior centers, churches and other organizations that tend to attract retired residents who may have more time.

The committee used to have more retired and active elderly members, but Burbank said many started to resign after paperwork and 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 that will be put up throughout the county and to post the vacancy on the county’s 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 looking into some kind of reimbursement for the additional workshops and conferences volunteers attend.

One thought on “Nursing Home Advocates Struggle to Find Volunteers

  1. Not a bit surprised. I served on one of these committees for assisted living facilities and we quickly learned that our reports carried no weight at all with state regulators. Issues were reported in writing and verbally yet regulators did NOTHING to improve conditions at these facilities . I quit as did many others.