As we approach the holiday season — nearly three years into this global pandemic — I am reflecting on my role as an advocate for people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.
All of us have been challenged with extended periods of social isolation, and our own health struggles. But no population experienced greater threats to their emotional and physical well being than residents in long term care, many of whom don’t have any visitors.
Thirty years ago I began volunteering as a long term care ombudsman. The word ombuds is a Swedish word meaning “to advocate for another.”
In Washington state, our long-term care ombudsman program relies heavily on trained volunteers to be eyes and ears visiting long term care homes, assessing how residents are doing.
We flag incidents of poor quality of care and violations of residents’ rights. We help resolve complaints and serve as a voice for residents who too often just don’t have one or are too wary of speaking out about issues.
These days long term care facilities are more short staffed than ever. When staff are stretched too thin, that puts residents at risk. Volunteer ombuds can be a lifeline for residents, helping safeguard their rights and ensure the quality of care they are receiving.
I hear there is a decline in volunteerism and that makes me sad. As Rick Warren’s famous saying goes, “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”
I get so much satisfaction out of helping people. I always get back threefold what I give. And we have a great community of volunteer ombuds across Jefferson and Clallam counties. When we get together it’s like old home week. Some of us have been doing this a long time, others are very new to it.
Sometimes the issues we help residents with are simple. For example, when facility staff don’t realize that residents can have visitors. In fact, residents have a legally protected right to visitors, and we can help educate the staff, and resolve that issue for the resident.
Other times, bigger threats like eviction may face residents. We can help make sure residents have an advocate, and access to resources, to appeal potentially inappropriate discharge attempts.
There’s simply no monetary value you can put on helping people that need help. If you are looking for social connection and a way to give to members of your community in need, I hope you’ll consider volunteering as a long term care ombuds. You can learn more and apply at waombudsman.org.
Sequim resident Claudia Murray has 30 years of volunteering as an area long term care ombudsman at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across Clallam and Jefferson counties.