The Role of Care Partners in Long-Term Care – It’s Essential
The COVID-19 pandemic brought rapid and significant changes to health care institutions. Infection prevention became paramount, particularly in long-term care homes. To protect the vulnerable residents of the homes, visitation rights were removed or heavily restricted.
Although barring entry to visitors may have limited the spread of COVID-19, it came with unintended consequences. Not only did elderly residents feel lonely and neglected, but many residents also experienced serious declines in their health and wellbeing. Long-term care providers quickly determined that bringing in families and friends would be critical for residents.
In late 2020 a team of researchers at the Bruyère Research Institute partnered with three Ontario long-term care homes to implement an Essential Care Partner (ECP) program designed to allow ECPs to safely enter the home, even during outbreaks. With help from an Advisory Board of ECPs and long-term care experts, the research team gathered and analyzed interview and survey data to help the homes implement and evaluate their programs.
Most essential care partners are intimately familiar with the residents they support. They provide vital psychosocial and emotional support to residents, and some even help with personal care tasks. In addition to supporting care, many ECPs also advocate on behalf of residents, helping to signal to care teams when there may be a problem, or identifying opportunities to improve care and quality of life.
“Team members at the homes observed dramatic improvements in the health and well-being of the residents when family were allowed back into the home,” said James Conklin, PhD, lead investigator on the project. “One key to improving long-term care in Ontario is to recognize that care is relational. And relational care occurs when people spend time together, affirming and supporting each other with simple and ongoing acts of kindness and compassion.”
ECP programs can strengthen relationships between family and the personal support workers in the home. Many family members and long-term care team members who participated in this research thought ECP programs are necessary and must continue – for the benefit of the residents as well as the staff. Centering residents and family caregivers in the process empowers long-term care providers to make decisions that are best for their respective home and to create a program that supports the needs of their community.
To date, this research has resulted in two journal articles:
For long-term care homes looking for more resources and information on essential care partners, visit the Ontario CLRI at Bruyère’s resource page.
[Quick note on terminology: We use the term “essential care partner” because research shows that these people play an essential role in the homes, and because they provide this role through a partnership with the resident and the care team. Other terms that may be used include essential caregiver, family caregiver, and designated care partner.]
This work would not have been possible without the support of research project funders Healthcare Excellence Canada, Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care at Bruyère, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.