Patient, family advisory councils sharpen senior services at St. Mary Mercy

February 1, 2012


If you want to know what seniors and their families value or dislike about health care services, ask them. That's the advice of Carrie Hays McElroy, service line administrator for senior services at St. Mary Mercy hospital in Livonia, Mich.

During a fall webinar hosted by Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders, McElroy made a case for using patient,

family advisory councils as a listening post. She said health care providers can use the councils' feedback to refine services in ways that meet the needs and preferences of patients. St. Mary Mercy involves its advisory council in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the services it offers, to ensure the hospital is providing patient-centered care.

McElroy said that 63 percent of St. Mary Mercy inpatients are seniors and the Trinity Health facility has made it a priority to become the premiere provider of services to seniors in its community. In 2010 it established a senior services line, dedicating a section of the emergency department for seniors. St. Mary Mercy designed the section to be safer and less anxiety-provoking for people with age-related limits to their eyesight, hearing or balance. Also, as part of the effort to better accommodate seniors, St. Mary Mercy provides all of its nurses with training in caring for older adults.

McElroy said it's important to get administrative buy-in before starting an advisory council. Thought barriers to such initiatives can include a perception that the council could recommend something undoable or unmanageable. In some hospitals, administration and staff believe that they know the patients' needs already or that older staff members and older board members adequately offer the senior perspective on services, McElroy said.

A review of patient satisfaction data and a determination to improve patient satisfaction scores may help build a case for establishing an advisory council that can make substantive contributions to the hospital's senior services strategy or product line, McElroy said.

"Creating any sustainable partnership with patients and families is . . . going to require profound change in organizational culture as well as leadership behaviors," McElroy said. This means administrators must give serious consideration to the input of the advisory council. For the council to remain engaged, it must see that decisions are made, in part, on its advice, McElroy said.

Senior leaders of St. Mary Mercy attend some council meetings, but they do not hold formal seats on the council. Staff members who do sit on the council include McElroy and St. Mary Mercy's patient experience officer. Other staff members and clinicians attend meetings to share information about projects and elicit the group's feedback.

McElroy said hospital staff can play a part in identifying patients and family members who would make good candidates for the council. These individuals may come to the staff's attention by virtue of either positive or negative experiences with St. Mary Mercy. Good prospects for council seats would respect the opinions of others and be able to articulate their own insights and experiences. The council may include community members as well, but McElroy said the advisory council should not feel or function like a formal board committee.

Members of newly formed councils need to be given time to get to know one another and familiarize themselves with the hospital's strategic plan and its performance. Once the foundation is laid, McElroy suggests getting the council involved in the planning stages of improvement projects, rather than waiting until a project is ready to launch to solicit their insights and feedback.

McElroy said of St. Mary Mercy's advisory council members, "they have become our greatest ambassadors for our organization in the community."


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.