Want to advocate for residents living in long-term care homes? State ombudsman program seeks volunteers

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The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an independent organization that advocates for the rights of residents living in long-term care homes. The program relies on trained volunteers who visit, resolve complaints and advocate for the rights of residents in long-term care facilities.  Ombuds is a Swedish word meaning “to advocate for another.”

According to a program news release, nearly 80,000 Washingtonians live in more than 4,300 licensed long-term care facilities homes across the state — most in community-based settings like adult family and assisted living homes. Others are in nursing homes and other facilities.

During the past four years, long-term care residents have experienced a twin pandemic of COVID infection and prolonged isolation, the news release said. Even without a global pandemic, many long-term care residents do not receive regular visits from family or friends, or don’t know where to turn for help solving the challenges they face. They may even experience neglect and abuse.

“We could not do what we do without volunteers,” said Patricia Hunter, Washington State Long-Term Care Ombuds. “Volunteer Ombuds assess how residents are doing, flag incidents of poor quality of care and violations of residents’ rights, and help residents resolve complaints. Ombuds serve as a voice for people who may not feel they have one, or fear that if they complain they may be subject to retaliation.”

In a typical year,  trained volunteers  donate more than 45,000 hours visiting residents, addressing complaints, including reports of abuse, neglect and substandard care. They are the eyes and ears, assessing how residents are doing. According to the news release, ombuds resolve over 90% of the complaints received, and reduce the need for costly government or legal interventions. They provide critical support to ensure the quality of care and the rights of residents are being upheld.

Common violations of resident rights and complaints that Ombuds address include:

– Involuntary discharge/eviction

– Lack of personal dignity and respect

– Slow or no response to request for assistance

– Issues with medications

– Issues related to hygiene

– Civil rights and billing issues

Mike Ellis, a Snohomish County volunteer long-term care ombuds, said that “this is an area you can really make a difference for people. When I walk into one of my communities, I feel a lift of joy. A lot of it is the reaction you get from the residents, they are happy to see you. A lot of times you’ll make their day, and in turn, they’ll make your day. Getting to know the people, and the stories you get to hear from residents and sometimes their family members is a joyous experience. I’ve gotten much more out of my volunteer experience than I’ve given. If you can help somebody that needs help, it’s very rewarding. Being a lookout for the quality of care and quality of life of long term care residents is a really important mission.”

Long-term care ombuds are trained in infection control, issues in aging, mental health, dementia and disability. The certification training — provided at no cost — covers regulations, complaint investigation, interview protocols, cultural competency, advocacy, ombudsman ethics and the rights of residents.  Volunteers and staff meet monthly for continued training and support. Travel mileage is reimbursed.

Community members interested in volunteering with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program can find out how by visiting www.waombudsman.org or calling 1-800-562-6028.

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