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Family Councils in Nursing Homes


What is a family council?

A family council is an organized group of relatives and friends of a nursing home's residents who meet on a regular basis to discuss issues and concerns regarding the home.

What is the purpose of a family council?

The main purpose of most family councils is to protect and improve the quality of life in the home and to give families a voice in decisions that affect them and their loved ones in the facility. Specific objectives vary greatly from council to council. Some examples include:

  • Support for families
  • Education and information
  • Discussion and action on concerns and complaints
  • Services and activities for residents
  • Joint activities for families and residents

What are the benefits of a family council?

  • Family councils allow families to give each other the support, encouragement, and information they need. No one knows as well as a family member how difficult it is to place a loved one in a nursing home. After placement, families continue to share similar concerns, problems and questions that involve their resident. Council involvement helps provide family members an opportunity to express their ideas and concerns and a way to work for positive change.
  • Family council involvement can especially benefit residents who are physically or mentally unable to voice their concerns and needs.
  • The nursing home also benefits through dealing directly with family concerns and ideas by conveying needed information to families and establishing meaningful lines of communication. The nursing home administrative staff may be able to use the family council as a sounding board for new ideas.
  • Residents should benefit from Council efforts to improve the quality of life in the nursing home.

How are family councils organized and structured?

Some family councils are initially started by nursing home staff, often at the administrator's request. Other councils are started by interested families or friends or by nursing home volunteers or community leaders.

Although the organizational structures of family councils vary greatly, there are some common features of most councils. Family councils should be run by friends and relatives of the home's residents, choose their own topics, have elected leadership, meet on a regular basis, and have some method for exchanging information with the nursing home staff. Two structures are common:

Town Meeting Model
If the group of interested families and friends is small, the council usually invites all families to each meeting. Planning, decision-making, and other basic tasks are carried out at these meeting.

Executive or Planning Committee
If the group is large, a committee may be needed to plan and make decisions that would be too time consuming to deal within meetings of the full council. The committee may meet monthly and plan bimonthly or quarterly events or projects to which all families are invited.

A family council is not the same as a "family night." Family night is a name used in many nursing homes for occasional educational or social functions planned and hosted by the nursing home staff for families and friends of the home's residents. While these programs may be beneficial, they serve a different purpose from family council run by the relatives and friends themselves.

Do relatives and friends have a right to organize a family council?

Yes. All citizens have constitutional rights to organize and meet to discuss issues of concern. Georgia law also gives family members of nursing home residents the right to present concerns without retaliation. Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes must allow family councils to operate and must provide meeting space in the facility for their activities. Staff from the facility may attend only at the invitation of the family council.


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