Four very special individuals from Genesee County have taken on an important role in our community as Volunteer Long Term Care Ombudsmen. ‘Ombudsman’ is an unusual word with Swedish roots, defined as a person who investigates complaints and mediates fair settlements. Under federal and New York State law, all residents of long term care facilities (nursing homes, adult care facilities, assisted living facilities and family-type homes) have the right to speak confidentially with an ombudsman about their concerns.
Ombudsmen are volunteers who enjoy working with the elderly. They are charged with resolving complaints, monitoring quality of life issues and helping to preserve the dignity of residents living in long term care facilities. Their primary goal – protecting the rights of residents.
Richard Neth, a Batavia resident who has been a volunteer Ombudsman for over six years, attests, “It’s very rewarding to know the residents appreciate our help. I really look forward to seeing them each week.”
Catherine Stone, a LeRoy resident who has been with the Ombudsman Program for eight years, covers two different facilities, visiting residents each week and helping where she can. She talks modestly of her role. “It really isn’t much,” says Stone. “Some people can’t speak for themselves, so I help wherever I can.” Stone especially enjoys weekly visits to a new family-type home in LeRoy. “They truly are a family there, and it brings such joy to me to visit with them.”
Neth, Stone and three other volunteers each spend 2-4 hours per week visiting residents in the long term care facility to which they are assigned. Together, they visit over 600 residents at 7 different facilities every week. In 2008 alone, they investigated and resolved over 77 complaints.
“A very big job for our small group of dedicated volunteers,” admits Leanne Rorick of Lifespan, the Program’s local Coordinator. The Genesee County Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is managed by Lifespan, a senior service agency in Rochester, NY. Other counties covered by Lifespan include Livingston, Wyoming, Monroe, Ontario and Yates.
Complaints range from minor to major and can include lost laundry issues, care-related concerns, food complaints, and even abuse allegations, neglect, or mistreatment.
“We’re friendly visitors, but we’re so much more,” says Rorick. She reflects on the past few months and some of the cases she and the team of volunteers have assisted with.
“Privacy issues, lost laundry, emergency call bells not being answered in a timely manner, and staffing issues are just some of the situations that we’ve dealt with recently.”
Complaints are given to ombudsmen during their regular weekly visits with residents. Staff members sometimes request the assistance of the ombudsman to mediate difficult situations, as well. Residents, staff, family members and friends can contact the regional Ombudsman Program office at Lifespan with concerns and complaints, at (585)244-8400 x114. Discussions with ombudsmen are always confidential.
The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program was developed as a demonstration program in 1972, and is currently established in all states under the Older Americans Act. Over 1,000 volunteers serve more than 150,000 long-term care residents in New York State, alone.
Volunteers for the Ombudsman Program have come from all backgrounds and experiences, including but not limited to the banking and finance industry, the legal field, teaching, nursing, social work and homemaking. They are people who enjoy the elderly, who are dedicated to helping others and who can commit to weekly visits to their assigned facility.
Certification is free, and includes a 36-hour training course provided by Lifespan of Rochester, where experts cover topics such as the aging process, levels of care, the inner workings of long term care facilities, advocacy strategies, and more. The next annual training program will be held May 13-20.
An application process, interview and background check are necessary to begin training for the Certification Program. Volunteers are assigned after successful completion of training. A one year commitment is recommended, but most ombudsmen continue long after.
If you interested in becoming a Certified Volunteer Ombudsman, or if you would like more information about the Ombudsman Program, please contact Marie Frey, Ombudsman Program Coordinator at Lifespan, at (585) 244-8400 x114 or local Coordinator, Leanne Rorick at 402-8480 or [email protected].