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Reflections on Family Councils and the Family Councils Conference

Family Councils play an instrumental role in long-term care homes, and yet so many residents and family members have never even heard of them.

Essentially, family members (and other persons of importance to residents) have a right under the Long-Term Care Homes Act (“LTCHA”) to create a group with other family members who have loved ones in the same home. The group is called the Family Council and, working together, they can create positive changes in the home.

Family Councils Ontario recently held its annual 2-day conference in Toronto (“Engaging Families, Changing Lives”) and it was inspiring to hear about the great work being performed by Family Councils throughout the province. Some of the councils have performed advocacy at the home and systems level such as adding benches, lobbying for better PSW pay and addressing a home’s failure to renew residents’ OHIP cards.

Other councils plan activities such as bringing in companion dogs, reuniting residents with lost laundry, and hosting social gatherings for staff, residents and families.

It was wonderful to hear about the many homes that support the formation and work of the Family Council, and work cooperatively to achieve mutual goals. Even small acts by the home, such as providing access to a photocopier and permitting the Family Council to set up informative bulletin boards, go a long way in establishing a positive rapport.

However, there is no question that some homes are resistant to the development of a Family Council and the work they try to achieve. This is to be expected as some homes have major issues and a group of family members is more powerful than a single person; in fact, as a group the Family Council has legal powers under the LTCHA. Dealing with a difficult home requires diplomacy, careful thought and, from time to time, legal guidance. Families must walk the fine line of advocacy, as they do not want to invite reprisal by the home against themselves or their loved ones (which unfortunately does happen from time to time).

We would like to extend sincere congratulations to all of the families and councils that were represented at the Family Councils Conference. The dedication of the many volunteers who attended, and who work tirelessly in homes across Ontario, is heartwarming, inspiring and truly “changing lives”.

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