Strength in numbers: Get organized!

Below is an excerpt from a great article from Dallas News about family councils in Texas.  The relatives of Texas nursing home residents have discovered there’s strength in numbers. Emboldened by a new state law, they’ve begun to organize more “family councils” at their nursing homes to advocate for better care.

“My mother was the one who taught me how to stand up and speak out, so it’s only fitting that I now step in for her,” said Daisy Kincheloe, who knew she had to do something after her elderly mother fell at Doctors Healthcare Center in North Dallas.  Her mother’s accident was the last straw. Before that, she had discovered other problems that convinced her that some staff members weren’t paying enough attention.

Ms. Kincheloe and other families at Doctors have just formed the group to give each other moral support, act as added sets of eyes and ears around the nursing home, and bring grievances to the administration’s attention. By presenting a united front, family councils have persuaded nursing homes to respond more quickly to residents’ call buttons, improve the meals and even hire more staff.  Family councils are enjoying renewed attention nationwide because many of their newer leaders are baby boomers, whose generation is known for its activism.

Though administrators occasionally resist the councils at first, a growing number say they welcome the groups because they encourage family participation and accountability from staff.

Many families hesitate to bring up problems because they’re afraid the nursing home staff will retaliate against their relatives. Others complain but find their grievances fall on deaf ears.   A family council can add weight to a complaint, advocates say.


1. Determine the need. As few as two or three families can organize a council.

2. Advise the administrator. By law, nursing homes must provide private meeting space for councils.

3. Notify other families. Meeting announcements can be posted on bulletin boards. Administrators may also offer to mail notices.

4. Ask advocacy groups and the local ombudsman for help. Advocates and the state ombudsman program’s local representative can explain nursing home residents’ rights.

5. Hold your first meeting. Discuss the council’s purpose, ask the ombudsman to talk about the grievance process and invite the administrator to speak.