Editor's Note: This article was updated 06/13/2019 to relect several corrections, including the spelling of Alicia Dunaske's name, the acronym for Department of Health and Human Services Board, Deb Allen's complete job title, the videographer's independent status, and who received the minutes taken by Andrea Gerring.   

TRAVERSE CITY — Andrea Gerring attended her first Grand Traverse Pavilions board meeting in June 2018. She was shocked to be only one of a handful of community members present, she said.

The Pavilions is an elderly care facility that houses more than 300 residents, making it one of the largest nursing homes in Michigan. It’s operated by the Grand Traverse County Department of Health and Human Services Board.

Gerring began attending the meetings after her mother was admitted earlier that year. She began taking minutes, and sharing them with members of the Family Council.

She was surprised that not more family members or residents came to the meetings because the board makes decisions that affect them on a daily basis, Gerring said.

“It’s important to go to the board meetings to know what’s happening,” Gerring said. “These are our most vulnerable in society and not many people know what is going on.”

She wanted a way to involve the community, she said.

“I was curious why issues that were long standing [among family members] were not being addressed or taken seriously by the board,” she said. “We know that there are enormous challenges with this country’s healthcare system but I felt that there wasn’t enough being done. I wanted the community to get involved and have a voice.”

Gerring proposed that the DHHS videotape the meetings and upload them to the internet through Traverse Area Community Media. TACM broadcasts public governmental meetings on the internet and select television channels.

Gerring pays the $50 monthly fee for an independent videographer to broadcast the meetings because the DHHS board voted down a proposal in the March 21 meeting to pay it themselves.

Because of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, the DHHS can not prohibit a citizen from filming it themselves. The April 23 meeting became the first recently televised Pavilions board meeting. 

Pavilions Foundation Executive Director Deborah Allen said in an interview that, although board meeting attendance is typically low, the Pavilions does as much as they can to keep the community involved.

Allen listed the family council and monthly newsletters as examples.

“Between the family council, between the publications we submit, and the open meeting act, we feel there’s a wide variety of vehicles for members of the community to get involved. While very gracious on [Gerring’s] part, I don’t think there was a perceived community need for the organization to incur that cost,” she said of the board’s decision.

Alicia Dunaske, a family council member since 2007, said that she saw this as a step to increasing community awareness and conversation around elder patient care.

She said that many family members are focused on the immediate care of their loved one, which means they often don’t have time to go to board meetings.

“They are there to fill in the gaps. They are so weary from caregiving that it’s too much for them to focus on the systemic issues,” Dunaske said. “We’re just trying to make it easier for them to get involved ... What we’re doing is important and it shouldn’t make anyone upset or uncomfortable.”