I am going to be president of the new family council at my dad’s nursing home. I plan to have a rep from each department give a description of their duties and responsibilities and then invite questions. What should we do after that? | Chicago, Illinois Elder Law Attorney Anthony B. Ferraro

Having a leader from each department is a very good idea. The more the communication, the fewer the problems, in theory at least. When you hear from the department leaders, it will give you a good picture of their responsibilities, and why they do what they do.

It’s not always clear to us and can lead to unanswered questions otherwise. Sometimes, there are health department, state, federal or other regulations in place. It’s easier for you and other resident families to deal with when staff members’ routines make more sense.

Work on building relationships between staff members and the residents’ families. Invite different staff members to attend your meetings. Remember that nurses and other direct care personnel are very important — not just the department heads. They are usually the ones doing 90% or more of the hands-on caregiving with your loved one. You better believe their input is important.

As a group, a family council can develop a method(s) for more effective communication with facility staff if a complaint or concern arises. When something does come up, it then ought to be less threatening for everyone to sit down and resolve it. The council also should consider developing a good way to deliver compliments to staff members, via proper thank-you notes, for example.

Plan for picnics or other get-togethers so staff, residents and family members can spend relaxed time together. Treat everyone as family.

The council should not simply become a gossip or complaint forum. The meetings also should be structured and effective since nobody wants to waste time — staffers and non-employees alike. For more ideas on what you might do or include, you can call other facilities and ask how they run their family council meetings. Best of all, speak with the actual officers of the family councils at other places, not just staff members or directors.