How to improve the lives of the people you support? Include them in your decision-making

Sophia Feurtado, service user engagement manager at Exemplar Health Care
Sophia Feurtado, service user engagement manager at Exemplar Health Care

Sophia Feurtado, service user engagement manager at Exemplar Health Care, a complex care provider that operates 47 complex care homes nationally, discusses the importance of engaging residents in the running of homes and the corporate organisation

Personalisation and person-centred care have long been buzzwords in the care sector. But to people across the country who use care services, these are not simply tick boxes, but crucial pillars of wellbeing.

Due to increased knowledge, changing expectations, and for some, previous poor experiences, increasingly people and their loved ones know what to look for when it comes to truly person-centred care. Care providers therefore need to ensure their whole organisation is guided by the ideas, wishes and interests of the people they support.

That’s exactly what we have been doing at Exemplar Health Care through our Service User Ambassador and Service User Council programmes.

As part of these programmes, which have been running for the past five years, people volunteer to be an Ambassador for their home. They work closely with our colleagues to take on roles in the day-to-day running of their home, greeting visitors and doing tours of the home (including for Commissioners and external healthcare professionals); interviewing job candidates; and acting as a ‘Peer Buddy’. In this role, Ambassadors partner with new residents or team members to help them settle in and understand life in the home from a first-hand perspective.

Ambassadors also take part in our Service User Council, which meets monthly and has grown in importance and influence to become an integral part of our organisation. Working alongside our leadership team, the Council advocates for people on home matters and helps to guide Exemplar Health Care’s work and policies.

Ambassadors from across different homes meet each other to discuss what is important to them, what is working well within their home or the organisation and where there may be room for improvement or a desire for change. Alongside their valuable operational impact, the Council meetings also provide a great social opportunity to meet people from other homes, boosting social wellbeing.

Our Ambassadors are now integral to the conversations we have and are deeply embedded in our operations. In fact, gathering the feedback and insights of those we support has greatly enhanced our home environments and the care we provide, and we are constantly looking at ways to get our Ambassadors and the Council more heavily involved in the running of the organisation.

We want people to feel empowered in deciding how they want to live. As such, we invite them to be at the heart of many of the decisions that might impact the running of a home or the wider organisation. As the Council programme goes from strength-to-strength, and our Ambassadors grow in confidence, they have been at the forefront of initiatives, including the creation of our holiday policy, a new resident app and the design of our new-build homes.

Holidays for all

Prior to the Council, there was no formal policy to support people to go on holiday, whether this be one night away from the home or trips abroad with friends and family. Several ambassadors raised this as a suggestion, and formed the principles for a policy which would be consistent across every home, and which worked for our staff teams who would be supporting trips and holidays.

Our leadership team worked closely with the Council on the resulting holiday policy. It covers a range of key areas, such as what we will pay for and what is the individual’s own responsibility, how we can support the logistics of travel planning and transport, as well as meeting specialist equipment or regular medication needs. The policy was implemented in time for the summer season and has been a great success – including for one of our residents who recently spent a few days at Download Festival with the support of several team members.

There’s an app for that!

Digital transformation in the care sector is well-documented in its capacity to support staff and leaders in their roles and streamline operational processes. However, we must not leave those who live in care homes behind in our mission to digitise the sector – and should examine how digital innovations can improve communication and accessibility for those we support.

While we have an internal app where team members share their success stories and the events taking place in homes, our Ambassadors identified the opportunity to create a resident app, which could improve communication between residents across all our homes. Since then, the Council has worked with us and our app developers to devise what they want in a resident’s app, how it should work and how it can support them to keep in contact with each other. This has now been rolled out across homes for everyone to use.

Homes designed by and for the people we support

Before embarking on our latest growth phase, the senior leadership team met with the Council to discuss what features or design changes they would like to see in our homes.

As a result of these conversations, every new build home will now include a hydrotherapy bath and sensory bathroom. Though it was not logistically or operationally possible to include the Council’s initial suggestion of a hydrotherapy pool, we worked in partnership with them to understand how we could support the principle of their suggestion and meet their needs in a way that worked for everyone.

This is one of many changes you will find in our new build homes that have been driven by feedback from the people we support. From minor details around fixtures and fittings, to the fundamental layout of a home and how people move around it, the Council has been integral to our design and build process.

Taking it to the next level

Our Ambassadors and the Council do a wonderful job representing all our residents, establishing a sense of belonging and dignity that results in happy homes.

Around 60% of the people we support have had a failed placement elsewhere in the sector, but when they come to us, they can see a real difference in our approach to empowering and involving them to create a real sense of home.

We are proud of what we have been able to establish so far, but are excited for the next phase of our ambassador and Council programmes. We will soon be introducing an ‘expert-by-experience’ role, involving people in shaping our policies and governance.

Beyond our organisation, we are also helping ensure the Council can have a positive impact on the wider sector. Sheffield Hallam University joined our most recent Council meeting as we work with them to devise new training modules for their Learning Disability and Autism Advanced Clinical Practitioner course.

While not every care provider will be able to replicate schemes like this, it is important that people are listened to and feel that their opinions matter. It is our job to provide the best possible care to the people we support, but also to empower them to shape their lives as much as they want to: a principle we should live by every day.

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