Tips From the Field

Spiff up your inservice with these creative ideas

One of the best things about creativity is you can tap into it for free. And in these days of tight budgets, every education manager needs to take advantage of every available free resource.

An Ohio education manager has relied on her 16 years of home care experience to help her create a variety of innovative and low-budget inservices for home health aides.

"There seems to be a real need for innovative inservicing on a shoestring budget," says Karen Newlon, RN, community education consultant for Genesis Home Care in Zanesville, OH. The hospital-based agency serves six counties in southeastern Ohio. Newlon spoke about creative inservices at the recent National Association for Home Care conference in Atlanta.

She also has been involved with youth groups, and she found that some of the creative ideas used in those groups also could work in home care.

Genesis Home Care holds at least one aide inservice each month. The first thing Newlon does is give each aide a copy of the inservice schedule, including when the sessions will be held and what topics will be covered. "And if you can schedule those on paydays, you will increase your attendance," she notes.

She has devised a variety of tips for creative inservices. Here are a few:

• Tie inservices to theme months. For example, Oct. 3-9, 1999, is National Fire Prevention Week, so a fire safety inservice would be appropriate during that week. (See "Special Days to Remember," p. 191, to learn which health care events will be honored in December.) "You could have a firefighter speak and show a video, or you could have a local firefighter participate in a video you’re making," Newlon says. "You could have the firefighter bring the full gear and have one of the fun-loving aides put on that gear, and this helps aides realize how important fire fighters are to us."

For Food Safety Education Month in September, she gave aides little bars of soap concealed in birthday wrapping paper and taped to memos with an infection control message.

• Give a hand-washing demonstration. If the inservice is about Washington, DC-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, you could use a special substance to demonstrate how poorly most people wash their hands.

The substance is put on the aides’ hands, and then they wash their hands as usual. When they’re done, a black light shows how much of the substance is left on their hands. That substance, you could tell them, is like the bac teria they might have missed by not washing thoroughly.

An organization called Partnerships for Food Safety has several ideas that promote infection control. One idea is to tell aides to sing "Happy Birthday" while washing their hands. "Just sing it twice while washing with soap and water, and that will be the approximate right amount of time to wash your hands appropriately," Newlon says. (See "Internet Connect," p. 190.)

• Reward special behavior. "If aides have done something really special or gone out of their way to help a co-worker or to come to work at an unscheduled time, I give them little packages of candy," Newlon says. "I put these address labels on them with a rainbow graphic that says something like, Thank you for helping our home care team; you are a life saver.’"

She also has given out Rice Krispies treats in blue foil packages. She puts a label on them that says, You are a treat to work with in home care.’" Another good treat is Payday candy bars, which she sometimes puts in the aides’ paycheck envelopes, along with a message that reads "Thinking of you on payday for your special efforts."

These rewards might be given any time of the year or on special occasions, such as during National Home Care Month in November.

• Encourage inservice participation. Sometimes it’s difficult to find volunteers to answer a question during a class. So Newlon has come up with a gimmick that makes participation like lottery ticket. She bought some little balls at a discount store and placed them underneath chairs at the inservice. The first time she uses the balls, she gives out treats to everyone who has one. The next time, she asks those with balls under their chairs to answer questions or participate on a panel.

"Sometimes it’s a reward, and other times it’s something they have to do something for," she says. "You do that once, then the next time they will start looking for the balls because they think they’re going to get a treat."

• Create special themes for use throughout the year. Newlon has used "star power" as a theme. One project might be a "star search," in which she searches for home care employees who have provided exceptional care. Their reward, naturally, is a star.

Also, she has posted a large star on the staff bulletin board and placed copies of client thank-you notes on it. A third trick is to give a wand with a star on the end to an employee who will be in charge of crowd control at a staff meeting.

• Make a figurative alphabet soup. "Also, I use alphabet soup, the ABC’s of home health," Newlon says. Education managers could boost staff morale at an inservice by putting up a giant tablet and asking each aide to describe the agency, using the alphabet. For example, next to the letter A, someone could write "always on time." The letter B could mean "better than the competition."

The education manager would write the letter on the tablet before the inservice. The only rule would be that staff must write positive things only. If educators don’t want to take time during the inservice for this activity, they could simply explain it and then display the tablet for a week so staff could write comments when they have free moments, Newlon adds.

She also has taught aides about the acronyms home care agencies use. She calls this the "alphabet soup of home care." She asks aides to write out what each abbreviation means on a big board. The aides who know the most abbreviations win a gift-wrapped Alphabits cereal box or can of alphabet soup. Abbreviations might include BBA for Balanced Budget Act, IPS for interim payment system, or NAHC for the National Association of Home Care.

• Demonstrate teamwork and staff cohesiveness. Education managers could build mystery and a little excitement into their inservices by sending special invitations that include a puzzle piece with the aide’s name on one side and characters or pictures on the other side. The invitation could read, "Has home care become a puzzle to you? Come to the inservice and learn how we all fit together," Newlon suggests. Aides will have to bring their puzzle pieces to the inservice and figure out where they fit.

• Provide "poison-smart" training. "Another thing we do that has been very effective is we work closely with the poison control center, and they provide poison-smart training," she says. Trainers show how Parmesan cheese cans can look like cleanser cans to both children and adults with dementia. "So they might put cleanser on spaghetti or try to clean the sink with Parmesan cheese," she says. Also, blue gelatin dessert looks like some air fresheners, so a patient could try to eat the air freshener.

• Explain why you must repeat, repeat, repeat. Each year, some of the same inservices must be held on safety, infection control, and other important issues. Newlon explains why aides need to learn the same material again and again.

She asks aides to turn their packets over when the workshop begins, and she says, "What I’d like you to do is . . . draw the head of a penny." Of course, most people will not remember who is on a penny or which way the head faces.

"The point is, how many pennies have you handled in your lifetime, and you don’t even know who is on it and which way their head is facing?" she will say. "How can I expect you to remember everything I share with you in this inservice? That’s why we’ll repeat and reinforce it."


Karen Newlon, RN, Community Education Consultant, Genesis Home Care, 2503 Maple Ave., Zanesville, OH 43701. Phone: (740) 452-5458. Fax: (740) 452-3987.