Words are powerful. Just a few of them can hurt or heal; make someone’s day or ruin it altogether. The power of language is why Saskatoon Health Region’s Seniors’ Health and Continuing Care team is trying to change the language used to refer to long-term care homes, those who live in long term care homes and those who access home care or other community services.

When Audra Remenda joined the Seniors’ Health and Continuing Care team six years ago, there was one word that really didn’t resonate. It was ‘facility.’

“Everyone used the word ‘facility’ when talking about long-term care homes,” she said, “but who wants to live in a facility? When we’re trying to shift the culture so that long term care is more homelike, it makes sense to call them homes and not facilities. The word ‘facility’ counters the culture shift.”

RR-2015-10-21-LTC-languageThe Seniors’ Health and Continuing Care team has been trying to get people to see long term care homes as soft places to land – as sanctuaries and homes – but the term ‘facility’ doesn’t convey that feeling.

This is why Remenda is suggesting that we use the terms ‘home’ or ‘community’ instead of facility. For years now, in discussion and presentations to groups within and  outside Saskatoon Health Region, Remenda has asked people to, “Just say no to the F-word.”

“It’s become my catch phrase. I’ve used it everywhere, including at a conference in Ottawa,” she said, smiling.

Most of those Remenda has coached about the word ‘facility’ have agreed to drop the term, though she knows the word persists.

Lately, there has been another word that the long term care staff and advisory council members are trying to get rid of in long term care homes – it’s the word ‘patient.’

“There are about 900 spaces for acute care patients in hospitals in Saskatoon Health Region, but there are 2,237 people living in long-term care homes. The term ‘patient’ medicalizes those people who are simply living their lives within long term care, people who want to be seen as themselves, as individuals, not as patients,” Remenda said.

“The dictionary defines the word ‘patient’ as a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment,” said Elaine Feltis,  a family advisor and co-chair of Saskatoon Health Region’s Long Term Care Advisory Council. “Although this terminology may be applicable to the hospital sector, primarily acute care, it does not apply to long term care, home care and community dwellers.

“Individuals residing in long term care homes may require assistance and support to live,” Feltis continued. “The emphasis must be on that. They are there primarily to live their lives to the fullest, not just to receive medical treatment. Having a loved one living in long term care referred to as a ‘patient’ is wrong.”

The Seniors’ Health team and Long Term Care Advisory Council have been raising this point within the Region, along with concern over the term ‘beds,’ which is commonly used to describe the capacity of a hospital or long term care home.

“In long term care, using the ‘beds’ descriptor doesn’t work. It conveys an image of bedridden, frail people. We like to use the term ‘capacity’,” Remenda said.

The word ‘admission’ also isn’t great for use in long term care.

“‘Admission’ is a very clinical term,” Remenda said. “When you make a long-term care home your new residence, you move in. We like that term better.”

As a whole, the Region should try to be conscientious about what terms are used and what they convey, according to the Seniors’ Health and Continuing Care team.

“We’ve heard about caregivers referring to residents of long term care as their bed number or the service that they need – things like ‘bed two still needs to be moved’ and ‘who are the baths today?’ This says to the resident that they are seen more as objects or services than as individuals,” Remenda noted. “Caregivers need to use residents’ names – they are more than a bath or a bed.”   In the words of Dale Carnegie, “There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear, than the sound of their own name.”

Information on inspiring resident-directed care through language can be found on Saskatoon Health Region’s website.