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Are activity professionals a dying breed?

Editor’s note: This article was written by guest blogger Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, a healthcare marketing and experience management expert and elder advocate. For more information about the author, please see our About page.
A colleague and friend of mine, Kimberly Grandal, is a therapeutic recreation and activities consultant/educator. During one of our conversations, she was lamenting that under the guise of culture change she feared that activity professionals would lose their positions in favor of “universal workers.” After all, if you start interpreting the F-tags around dignity literally and believe that an activity can be provided at any time, at any place, by anyone as long as it coincides with the desires of the resident, than an unenlightened administrator may quickly see dollar signs and conclude that activity professionals were no longer central.
In a related and heated blog discussion around this topic, administrators and activity professionals pretty much agreed that the universal worker could not replace the activity professional. And I agree. First of all if you are truly going to create experiences for residents, you must know their wishes and interests. In fact if you truly are going to create experiences you must also give the residents choice. The activity professional has a handle on this because it is his or her responsibility to perform assessments, tailor individualized programs for residents, and monitor their implementation and impact.
If there were one department truly responsible for setting the tone and establishing the culture for exceptional resident experiences it would be the activities department.
Yet I do not always see the activities department being supported to the extent that they should. Part of that is support through the budgetary process but most of it is support through the leadership, recognition of the role that activity professionals play, and how crucial it is in the life of the organization. As someone who also entertains in nursing homes, I participate in various activity professional forums. It pains me to read about activity professionals who, in order to provide any kind of recognition during Nursing Home Week, must prepare their own food at home and bring it in because the facility will not pay for it. Or that other department directors do not want to participate in Nursing Home Week festivities. Yet that is what I have been reading in the forum posts this week.
If nothing else, during this National Nursing Home Week, while you acknowledge all long-term care workers for the role they play, give a special nod to the activity professionals who work long hours for low pay to make our residents happy.