Staying Connected in Today’s World: The Paradigm Has Shifted!

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Joan Devine, Pioneer Network Director of Education

Joan Devine

Remember the days when it was only acceptable to have pierced ears – and only one hole in each ear? Or when tattoos had to be totally covered or you could not work in a nursing home? Maybe you’re still not a fan of piercings or tattoos, but in today’s world, most of us have found that we need to change with the times and so we do.

But some changes are harder than others. Consider cell phones. How many of you have policies in your organizations that prohibit direct care staff from using their personal cell phone at work?

Having these policies makes sense. After all, we want staff focused on the residents. But are strict policies prohibiting cell phones really helping to accomplish that outcome? Or are we resisting a change that has become a part of our way of life, that is happening whether we work with it or fight it?

Think about it. How many times have you found yourself in a panic when you discovered that you had left the house without your cell phone? Most of us have embraced the new standard in this world related to how and how often we stay connected – and the cell phone is central to this.

Schools and daycares stay connected with parents using texts, e-mails and even social media. Physicians and health systems also use this medium to share information. Using cell phones as a way to stay connected is a part of life today.

So the question is, why are we spending so much energy trying to get rid of the cell phones – why not put that energy into finding productive and appropriate ways to use them?

After all, in a person-centered culture, we value relationships and encourage connections, so perhaps we need to look at this and challenge ourselves to find a way to embrace change.

For the caregiver who is a single mother, feeling safe and secure at work no doubt includes knowing that she has a “lifeline” to her children’s day care or school. This may actually provide the peace of mind needed to help focus on the residents.

So what can we do? Consider bringing your staff together and exploring options for appropriate use of cell phones by all – staff and leadership (yes, there is a double-standard there, but that’s an entirely separate discussion). Ground the conversation in shared values related to resident care and services and then take the time to explore and understand staff needs.

And as a bonus, think of the engagement that is possible using a cell phone. Sharing pictures, learning and having fun with YouTube or using google to explore together. (My grandkids recently asked a question about the Chicago fire, and we spent about 15 minutes exploring using Google on my phone. It was fun and educational!)

We preach the need for change and person-centeredness to our teams. We tell them that person-centeredness begins with how management treats staff. So maybe looking at cell phones can be a good place to show what that really looks like.

9 comments on “Staying Connected in Today’s World: The Paradigm Has Shifted!

  1. donna woodward on

    Joan, it’s great that you’ve opened this conversation. Why expend so much energy on cell-phone conflicts in the workplace? Is cell-phone use as big an obstacle to good care as we’ve seemed to make it? As usual you bring up great points, especially about starting toward a solution by starting with direct-care staff and grounding the conversation in shared values of person-centeredness — for residents and also staff! And by eliminating double standards, one for managers and another for direct care workers.

    To be honest, after years of being in and out of LTC homes in a variety of capacities, and feeling depressed at seeing residents often ignored while aides sit and text, I’ve been inclined to agree with the no-cell-phones policies. But they don’t work! There has to be another way to respect aides’ needs to communicate with family (and chill out) while maintaining an ethic of person-centered attention to resident care first and foremost. Maybe at your next PN conference you can organize a session bringing direct-care staff and a few managers together to begin crafting a cell-phone policy that is person-centered with respect to all.

    • Joan Devine on

      Donna – this has been a great conversation. You are definitely making me think more about how I personally, and PIoneer Network, can help facilitate further conversation, and more importantly, more person-centered practices for all!

  2. Diana on

    I believe we all are afraid of change, fear of confidential violations, and holding staff accountable for their actions. I agree we do spend a lot of energy keeping cell phone use out of the work environment. Evermore our new hires are single mothers and they do have legitimate concerns regarding their children. What a challenge we have ahead of us, person centered care is building relationships between staff and residents. What better way to build that relationship then to share our life stories through pictures. And what if we find our staff teaching, sharing and enjoying the elderly in that journey? What a great idea!

    • Joan Devine on

      Thanks, Vickie. Glad to see it is a conversation starter, and I love a challenge – it’s how we grow!

  3. Barbara Gay on

    I understand what you’re saying and agree to a certain extent. However, is it possible that nursing homes are cautious about the potential misuse of cellphones to violate resident privacy, as has happened when staff took photos of residents in undignified positions and posted them on social media? Those reported incidents hurt the residents in question and have landed the nursing homes where they occurred in serious trouble. It only takes one or two wrong-headed staff people for this kind of incident to happen.

    • Joan Devine on

      Barbara. Thanks for your comment. See my response below to Terri. Yes, I agree there is potential for abuse, though I am not sure that a policy banning cell phones is going to stop the individual who is doing the types of things you note. I believe that the good caregivers in our field, and they are the majority, will work with us and do the right thing. I think we sometimes unintentionally cause hardship for them creating very restrictive policies, because of those few wrong-headed staff. you referred to. No question, each organization needs to look at this individually and has to have a process and policy supporting whatever approach you take.

  4. Terri on

    Employees must have cell phones for internal work related communications. Employees are not allowed to text or take personal calls during their shifts, unless an emergency.

    So many care partners who have worked in Home Care or Assisted Livings have learned it is ok to sit and watch TV, while texting and taking personal calls, rather than being engaged with the client or resident. This is not acceptable. We will not contribute to a culture of ‘me first’ and not doing the job they were hired to do.

    • Joan Devine on

      Terri – thanks for the comment – and love that this has turned into a conversation – that is always a great place to start! I know that this is not something that is easy to address, and I agree, cell phones absolutely have the potential to be a distraction and take away from engagement with residents, as well as with other team members. I also agree that a culture of “me first” is not healthy, but believe that taking care of the caregiver is critical in a person-centered culture and that we need to be proactive in addressing changes that impact our lives and our work. Saying no is the easy answer, but often that ‘no’ is in response to the staff who abuse a privilege, and the ones who suffer are the good, caring staff members who would do the right thing, i.e. follow guidelines for when and how to use their cell phone. The more challenging approach is to define parameters for use by working with the care team – and then yes, holding each other accountable to them. As I said, this is not easy, and I realize as I write this that I am ‘sitting in the cheap seats’ on this – you are the one working hard every day in a very complex setting to make life the best it can be for those you serve. Thank you for all you do..

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