No Complain – No Gain.
I am always confused and disappointed when a resident moves out of the community because they are dissatisfied with our customer service. I am especially frustrated when I discover that the events that precipitated the move could have been easily remedied. I would much prefer to have a family member call or stop by my office with a long list of complaints, than disappear without giving me the opportunity to address the things that displeased them.
Several years ago I transferred from Tallahassee to a new community in South Florida. The first day in my office, before I even had time to collect my thoughts, the phone rang. The caller, irate and upset, was a young woman who said her name was Evelyn. Without warning, she began bombarding me with strong words and harsh complaints. Then, minutes after calling, she physically appeared at my office door waving her arms and threatening to call her lawyer. She was rattling on about an incident that involved her mother, Irene.
To avoid a yelling match, I calmly and quietly led Evelyn into my office. I sat facing her in the two comfortable chairs that I saved for visitors rather than hiding behind my desk. I told her to repeat her story slowly so that I could take notes. Admittedly, at the time, I was irritated by her attitude, and categorized her as rude and demanding. But now, in retrospect, I appreciate that, despite her methods, she was challenging me to correct what she felt was a serious shortcoming in the community. I now realize that by complaining she was giving me an ideal opportunity to win her confidence.
I listened while she told me her concern. At dinner the previous evening, one of our wait staff had given her mother, Irene, who was a diabetic, a cup of regular ice cream rather than the sugar-free. Irene knew she should eat only the low sugar or sugar -free desserts that we have available from our kitchen, and the server, who was trained to monitor the food offered to diabetics, should have known not to give Irene the bowl of chocolate ice cream. Instead, when the server offered it to Irene, she accepted it without a word, and according to her table- mate, who tattled on her, Irene relished it without reservation. Luckily, she suffered no serious consequences, but the error needed to be corrected. I promised Evelyn I would investigate the situation immediately.
After speaking with the Dining Services Director and the employees who worked the shift in question, I surmised that the system of tracking diabetics was broken. In the kitchen there were pictures posted of the residents who suffered from diabetes, but there was no way to identify them in the dining room unless the servers knew the residents personally. The server in question was new, and therefore did not recognize Irene.
Residents often neglect to tell their waiter they should be restricted to sugar free options (what could be better than big dish of chocolate ice cream?). If an unseasoned server is not familiar with the residents who are diabetics, a resident could easily sneak by with a choice that may or may not be life threatening. It appeared it was not unusual for a diabetic to receive a dish of the wrong ice cream.
My Dining Services Director decided to put an inconspicuous small white doily between the cup and saucer at each place setting where a diabetic sat. The doily alerted the server the resident was not to have an excess of carbohydrates or sugar filled deserts. The solution, inexpensive and simple, solved the immediate problem.
The second solution presented itself inadvertently. Due to a high demand in the scorching summer heat, the kitchen ran out of the traditional ice cream. The staff filled the requests for ice cream with the sugar free rather than disappoint anyone. No one seemed to know the difference. From that day on we ordered only the sugar free. No one was the wiser and everyone was much healthier.
Evelyn and I had our good and bad days throughout her Mother’s tenure at our community. Despite the ups and downs we became good friends. The two of us worked together diligently to ensure that her Mom was happy and satisfied.
Yesterday, I received an unexpected notice from a resident’s son saying that he is moving his father to another community. He did not offer an explanation in his letter, just an end date for his father’s residency. I was surprised, and I felt I had been blindsided. The son had never come to the Director of Nursing or me. He never brought any concerns to our attention. In fact, I asked him daily as he passed through the lobby, “Everything going OK?” “Just fine,” he would answer. Of course, I called him immediately upon receiving his note, but he was not forthcoming with any details. I am forced to accept that I am losing a resident without any idea of the reasons why.
Consistently meeting the needs of over a hundred residents is one of the toughest aspects of my job. I continually face the challenge of finding creative solutions to numerous new and different problems. I cannot do that without our resident’s family members and loved ones being honest about our performance. I need to know about small problems before they become big ones. It sounds trite, but communication is the key. My philosophy: “How can I fix it, if I don’t know it’s broken.”
Neither of the above mentioned solutions were necessary in my present community. My current Director of Nursing and my Dining Services Director have a precise method to track diets. My story occurred years ago in a different community in a different city.