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Customer Service

Over the last few years, I’ve seen several staff in-services having to do with “customer service.”  While I think that a lot of good points have been made here, I wonder about calling the residents of long-term care facilities “customers.”  The definition of “customer” is someone who pays another for products or services.  And, while the facility and its owners/managers are being paid a certain amount in return for providing for their residents’ welfare, the fact is that (in most cases, at least where I’ve worked) the actual payment originates with Medicare, Medicaid, or various insurance companies.  If you want to be truthful about it, we should really be calling these entities the actual “customers.”  Especially since they’re the ones who specify what particular services or products they will pay us for, and will certainly let us know if these specifications are not met to their satisfaction.

So, if we’re not going to call these residents “customers,” then what other options do we have?  What about “guest?”  That seems like a more likely possibility.  When I looked up this word, I learned that it can be defined as “a person who spends some time at another person’s home in some social activity, as a visit, dinner, or party,” or “a person who patronizes a hotel, restaurant, etc., for the lodging, food, or entertainment it provides.”  To me, the second of these two definitions sounds a little more on target.  I like the idea of comparing a long-term care facility to a hotel.  We’re providing a room and a bed, as well as the services that go along with that (housekeeping, laundry, etc.).  We certainly provide food, and I guess that entertainment is included in there.  In addition to those wonderful folks in the Activities department, some of the other staff can be downright entertaining as well – whether they mean to be or not.  And it’s not too much of a stretch to include nursing care in this definition as well.  Every good hotel worth it’s salt has kitchen and maintenance staff, as well as people who run the business end of things.  (I hope I’m not forgetting anyone.)

There’s been a real push, in recent years, to move toward a different type of atmosphere in our long-term care facilities.  We’re being encouraged to do away with the sterile medical model, and move closer to a personal, homey type of setting.  I’ve seen facilities tearing down their nursing stations, offering on-call meals, and so on.  Even the use of the word “residents,” rather than “patients,” would seem to espouse this kind of mind-set.  A long-term care facility is the literal home of its residents, whether temporary or more permanent.  Just like many hotels, some guests come to stay for a short time, while others stay for a longer term or even consider it their permanent home.

So, the next time you go to work in a facility, remember back to the last time you stayed in a full-service hotel.  What kind of behavior did you expect from that hotel’s staff?  Can you see yourself behaving in a comparable way toward the residents – no, the guests – you take care of every day?

Just something to think about.

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