​Changing Conversations

Rockport Healthcare Services, which provides clinical and administrative support for skilled nursing and assisted living centers in California and Texas, is starting to see conversations among residents change. This is thanks to a new Senior K9 Adoption program in which caring for a four-legged senior is the main feature.

Residents at Rockport’s centers make an agreement to bring a sheltered senior dog into the facility, nurse it back to health, and find a new family to adopt it. The organization has partnered with a local animal shelter which provides training and certification for the residents in the facility, complete with badges. Rockport residents follow an 11 step assessment to help ensure the dog is ready for adoption, which was developed by a nationally renowned dog trainer.

How It Works

The activities department makes a list of duties available for residents to sign up. First on the list is a 6:30am job to take the dog out in the morning. Someone else signs up to feed the dog, and another resident may need to give the dog medication. Another resident signs up to exercise the dog.
Residents that are not able to work with the dog independently—those with cognitive challenges for example—may sign up to groom the dog.

The job list continues. Another resident is the adoption coordinator. He has a flip phone to coordinate appointments and visits. He puts up fliers and invites individuals from the outside community to come visit the facility.

No staff are involved in these activities, only residents, says Matthew Lysobey, chief community integration officer at Rockport. They meet the potential adopter in the facility and show the dog. If the candidate is interested, the resident will share paperwork to complete, and the last step is for the Senior K9 adoption committee to interview the person and vote if it is a good match.

Residents with cognitive challenges can allow so play a role. They can ensure the dog gets adopted, help with grooming, and help socialize the dog in a group setting with a staff member present.

A New Perspective

The beauty of the Senior K9 Adoption program is the new perspective that residents gain, evident in conversations throughout the course of the dog’s rehabilitation.

Lysobey says the program helps make a distinction between patient-centered and person-centered care.
“If we as staff are caring for someone and that’s the fundamental piece of the relationship, it’s still patient-centered in some ways as opposed to person-centered,” he says. “So an opportunity for residents to change roles when they are giving back. This is a true person-centered activity.

The relationships that you see with the staff with the caregivers when people are actually giving back to the community I think it puts them on more equal footing and the conversations change,” he says.

The work by the residents translates into a new perspective.  Residents are scheduled to work the tasks. While there is a sense of pride, it’s not necessarily all happiness and joy, and that is because it’s work, says Lysobey. “Scooping poop is not necessarily fun but we can always find a person or two who will do it,” he says.

If a resident has a dialysis appointment for example and they are scheduled for complete a task, they will need to find someone else to do it for them. “They have taken ownership of it,” says Lysobey. “ They have something to talk about and it’s important and they are sharing information.”

A Job for Anyone

Rockport has worked with a therapist to design the duties so that anyone can help, even a resident with one arm. “I think people feel like a person again rather than a patient,” says Lysobey. “Even residents are bringing the dog around to visit other residents that don’t get out of bed much.”

To date, Rockport’s residents have fostered eight dogs. The latest dog weighed 11 pounds when he came to Rockport, and his last weight when leaving was 18 pounds.

“The residents were all communicating with each other, saying, ‘He doesn’t like this food, he likes to be fed at this time, etc.,’” Lysobey says. “The residents were out there thinking and talking for themselves. It wasn’t us as staff.”

The residents will throw an adoption party to send the dog off in their new home. Only after this is complete can residents begin to foster another senior dog.

“People are just so much more capable than we give them credit for,” says Lysobey.