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Here’s a guide to forming a family advisory council
You might think that getting patients and their families to serve on a family advisory council would be easy: After all, the press is full of stories that spotlight health care consumers who seem to want more of a say. But both the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minneapolis/St. Paul have had trouble filling their slots initially.
According to Pat Tommet, RN, PhD, CPNP, director of family-centered care at Children’s, it took an entire winter to get the 18 members of the council on board. And to do that meant posting signs in elevators, patient rooms, reception areas, and waiting rooms.
It also meant having a good application form (see sample form, p. 89) that expressed the interest of the hospital in having a committee that was representative of patients on a racial, geographical, and socioeconomic basis. The hospital also wanted representation of families of patients from premature babies through teenagers. "In the application, we wanted families to think beyond race when we asked them what kind of diversity they could bring to the table."
Although the hospital found its members, recruitment takes a continued effort. The terms last three years and are staggered so that a third of the members turn over annually. "We look for representatives of different styles of family, from teenage parents to single parents to two-parent families," explains Tommet, "as well as culturally diverse families."
There has been a continued effort to try to encourage ethnic diversity, but Tommet thinks the way they look for members — through an annual campaign and application process each year — is more likely to attract the white middle classes than others. There is a new push to partner with outside community groups, doing presentations at their meetings to try to get a truly representative group on the council. Council members also work to find replacements, bringing information to their primary care physicians and sending applications to good candidates. "We look for a diversity representation that is similar to our patients and families served," Tommet says. "We want to be truly representative."