Grow A Culture of Critical Thinking to Calm Survey Angst

This article was written by Action Pact writer Keith Schaeffer for the Pioneer Network, and published on their blog on June 12, 2018

Anxiety over the new Mega Rule survey process that examines caregivers’ critical thinking skills may have some long-term-care providers on edge, but not at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, PA.

“Our focus on critical thinking and empowering staff over the years in working with Action Pact has put us in better position,” says Steve Lindsey, CEO. “Getting everyone involved, not just assigning tasks but helping them understand the big picture, the issues, and how to make decisions has created a high level of critical thinking throughout the organization.”

How to achieve all that is the subject of Action Pact’s intensive session, Navigating the Mega Rule; Building a Highly Involved Culture of Critical Thinkers, at the Pioneer Network’s 2018 Annual Conference in August.  Presenters include LaVrene Norton, MSW, Megan Hannan, MS, Gloria Blackmon, RN, Glenn Blacklock, MS, and Linda Bump, MPH, RD, NHA.

Their purpose isn’t to tell attendees how to develop critical thinking among their staff, says Hannan, but to give them the information and understanding needed to chart their own course.

“We really appreciate that Action Pact’s is not a cookie cutter, pre-formulated approach,” says Lindsey. “It’s a journey of learning together and shaping something that is different for each organization’s culture.”

Garden Spot Village operates six skilled nursing households, each with its own culture shaped by those working and living there. Staff’s critical thinking abilities enable them to weigh carefully what they want to do while understanding it within the context of the regulatory environment and the lives of the people they serve, says Lindsey.

But most care homes leave critical thinking to the leadership,middle management, and nurses, says Norton. CNAs and others are simply told what to do, often without understanding the importance or context of their tasks within a person-centered, resident-directed culture.

But now, CMS expects hands-on caregivers to be critical thinkers, as well. Brains

All staff must know about the new survey requirements and their organization, residents, and services provided, and how to use that knowledge to better serve the residents. Do they know what to do when an incident occurs … that pudding should not be offered to Vivian because she is allergic to eggs … or that serving George dinner in his favorite nook outside the usual dining areas still requires proper hand hygiene and food safety practices?

Nurses develop critical thinking in college and in clinical training while going through a process of study, discussion, practice, feedback, reflection, further study, and more discussion. CNAs and other hands-on caregivers rarely get the opportunity.

“If we really expect them to think things through, know how to collaborate as a self-led team, and make decisions, then let’s give them the time, information, and education to develop critical thinking,” says Norton.

Person-centered environments with permanently-assigned, cross-trained staff working in teams to serve small groups of residents naturally enable caregivers to know the elder’s needs and desires well.

But staff’s capacity to contribute becomes much higher when they also are taught critical thinking skills … how to analyze, develop good judgement, and make decisions, says Norton.

For instance, CNAs know to inform the nurse when something doesn’t seem right. But what if the nurse fails to follow up after being told?

Rather than letting the matter drop or complaining to peers that “I told the nurse but nothing was done,”a CNA trained in critical thinking understands it’s important to follow up to ensure the nurse got the message.

“A sense of responsibility grows along with a more integrated understanding about how to serve the resident, and thoughts and actions toward her become more accurate,” says Norton.

As information is shared, the whole work team gains a deeper understanding and capability. They think through challenges as they arise, day or night, “determining whether to take the initiative and deal with it in the moment, or knowing when they shouldn’t take the initiative and call in resources from outside their team,” says Norton.

“It bubbles up in different ways in how life is lived and the sense of empowerment that residents and staff have … to live life on their own terms,” says Lindsey.  That and a CMS Five-Star rating has come from growing critical thinking skills at Garden Spot Village, he concludes.

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