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Open Access Research article

The care unit in nursing home research: Evidence in support of a definition

Carole A Estabrooks1*, Debra G Morgan2, Janet E Squires3, Anne-Marie Boström4, Susan E Slaughter1, Greta G Cummings1 and Peter G Norton5

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

2 Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

3 Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada

4 Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Science, Division of Nursing, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

5 Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:46  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-46

Published: 14 April 2011

Abstract

Background

Defining what constitutes a resident care unit in nursing home research is both a conceptual and practical challenge. The aim of this paper is to provide evidence in support of a definition of care unit in nursing homes by demonstrating: (1) its feasibility for use in data collection, (2) the acceptability of aggregating individual responses to the unit level, and (3) the benefit of including unit level data in explanatory models.

Methods

An observational study design was used. Research (project) managers, healthcare aides, care managers, nursing home administrators and directors of care from thirty-six nursing homes in the Canadian prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba provided data for the study. A definition of care unit was developed and applied in data collection and analyses. A debriefing session was held with research managers to investigate their experiences with using the care unit definition. In addition, survey responses from 1258 healthcare aides in 25 of the 36 nursing homes in the study, that had more than one care unit, were analyzed using a multi-level modeling approach. Trained field workers administered the Alberta Context Tool (ACT), a 58-item self-report survey reflecting 10 organizational context concepts, to healthcare aides using computer assisted personal interviews. To assess the appropriateness of obtaining unit level scores, we assessed aggregation statistics (ICC(1), ICC(2), η2, and ω2), and to assess the value of using the definition of unit in explanatory models, we performed multi-level modeling.

Results

In 10 of the 36 nursing homes, the care unit definition developed was used to align the survey data (for analytic purposes) to specific care units as designated by our definition, from that reported by the facility administrator. The aggregation statistics supported aggregating the healthcare aide responses on the ACT to the realigned unit level. Findings from the multi-level modeling further supported unit level aggregation. A significantly higher percentage of variance was explained in the ACT concepts at the unit level compared to the individual and/or nursing home levels.

Conclusions

The statistical results support the use of our definition of care unit in nursing home research in the Canadian prairie provinces. Beyond research convenience however, the results also support the resident unit as an important Clinical Microsystem to which future interventions designed to improve resident quality of care and staff (healthcare aide) worklife should be targeted.