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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Ombudsman programs and others to adjust their communication strategies with residents, families, providers, and the public, as well as think of creative ways to connect with each other. Below are tips and examples to promote effective and successful communication.

Communicating with Residents

As in-person visits resume, you will most likely being wearing a mask or other personal protective equipment (PPE), which may make it hard for others to hear you. Below are tips for communicating while wearing a mask. These tips are from the resource, Tips for Communicating While Wearing a Mask.

Tips for Communicating While Wearing a Mask

  • Imagine yourself as an actor. Use dramatic gestures and expressions.
  • Write things down for residents if it is helpful for the resident to better understand you (e.g., consider bringing a small dry erase board to show what you write).
  • Follow-up to make sure the resident understands you.
  • Consider wearing a laminated large photo of yourself with your title and program information so that residents can better see your face or identify you.
  • Nod to show you are listening and understanding.
  • Maintain good eye contact and let your eyebrows tell the story.
  • Face the resident and try not to turn away when speaking.
  • Consider use of a portable voice amplifier.
  • Say one thing at a time.
  • Pause after asking questions.

Suggestions for Communicating While Maintaining a Physical Distance

  • Prior to your visit identify how the facility is accommodating visits. Is the visit to take place outside, in a specific room in the facility, or resident’s room?
  • Residents with dementia or behavioral health needs may have trouble understanding physical distancing protocols. To help you maintain physical distance it may be helpful to identify something to occupy their attention, such as:
    • Ask staff for a snack or drink for the resident.
    • If the visit is outside and the resident smokes, visit while the resident smokes (if the smoke does not bother you).
    • Ask the staff if the resident has a favorite hobby and if some of those items can be available during your visit.
  • If visiting outside, it may be helpful to walk and talk, as appropriate.

Find more resources and suggestions on our COVID-19 Recovery and Reentry Resources for Ombudsman Programs webpage.

Communicating with Long-Term Care Facility Staff, Families, and the Public

Communication with providers is crucial and an integral link between you and residents and in addition to communicating with residents and long-term care facilities, it is important to share information with residents’ family members and the public. These suggestions are from the NORC resource, Tips for Ombudsman Program Communication with Residents, Long-Term Care Facilities, Families, and the Public During COVID-19.

Examples of Ombudsman program communication with long-term care facility staff, families, and the public include:
  • Send letters or emails to facility Administrators explaining the program’s revised visiting policy, communication policy, and a reminder about the role and responsibilities of the program.
  • Mail print materials about the program to facilities and ask them to share them with residents, family members, and others.
  • Encourage facility staff to distribute your email address as an alternate way to communicate with residents and family members or legal representatives. You may experience higher call volume due to COVID-19 and email may allow a shorter response time.
  • Coordinate with the facility to identify a staff person for you to contact on a regular basis to check-in and address complaints.
  • Ensure your website has current information. Share information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and your state and local agencies regarding COVID-19 on your website and social media.
  • Create a poster or flyer with information about the program, your name, and contact information, and ask facility staff to post it on the front entrance of long-term care facilities.
  • Obtain contact information for Family Council members and reach out to members via phone or email periodically.
  • Host regular meetings by phone, video, or social media (e.g., Facebook Live) to share information with family members and the public, respond to questions, and hear about their experience.
Find more examples of Ombudsman programs communicating with residents, families, staff, and the public on our website.

Upcoming Events

Webinar on Successful Communication During COVID-19: May 11, 2021 at 2:00-3:15 ET

This webinar will be held on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 2:00 to 3:15 pm ET and will share examples of successful communication between residents, their family members, and the Ombudsman program. This webinar is the second in a three-part series that provides a brief overview of the COVID-19 Recovery and Reentry Resources, shares successful program practices, and provides time for questions.

The third webinar in the series, Successful Complaint Investigation and Resolution During COVID-19, will be held on May 25, 2021 from 2:00-3:15 ET and will explore how Ombudsman programs have successfully advocated with and for residents, despite in-person visitation restrictions and other barriers. Attendees are encouraged to share their experiences and ask questions regarding the topic. Register.

Read archived issues of NORC Notes here. If you have a question, are not able to find a resource, or want to share training materials or program practices, please email ombudcenter@theconsumervoice.org.

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