Gigi Greco will speak at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 10 at the Betty Ehart Senior Center about the volunteer ombudsman program for seniors. Courtesy photo
BY SARAH CHANDLER
Los Alamos County is a special place with a high concentration of driven, passionate individuals. Even their volunteer efforts tend to be intensely focused on outcomes. When these traits are applied to goals that ensure people are treated with dignity and respect and allowed self-determination the outcomes are truly powerful. That kind of impact is exactly what a volunteer Ombudsman can expect.
What is a volunteer Ombudsman? The word is Swedish for “Carrier of the Message.” An ombudsman is the voice for vulnerable individuals. The Ombudsman program is federally mandated and designed to ensure residents in licensed, long-term care facilities are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve through systematic advocacy. They do not work for long-term care facilities. They work for the residents by making unannounced visits, observing, hearing complaints and following through each concern to a resolution.
An ombudsman checks in with residents to see that they are getting everything they need. They may respond to a call from family members about concerns they have, and they build rapport with the facility so they may work to resolve concerns. Particularly in the case of residents with cognitive changes, an ombudsman can help protect against abuse or neglect which the resident may not have the capacity to report. Regular presence in the facility makes it possible for ombudsmen to pick up on trends, make recommendations and negotiate for the most resident-centered care. Confidentiality is essential and volunteer ombudsmen learn to be detectives without disclosing which residents have expressed concerns.
Long-term care residents have special rights that are in addition to the rights we all have as US citizens. These revolve around fairness, freedom, choice, and privacy and include the right to live in the least restrictive setting possible. As volunteers become educated on the rights of long-term care residents, they are better able to help them understand those rights and advocate for them. Training to become an ombudsman involves 16-20 hours of classroom training and shadowing a trained ombudsman in a facility. Volunteers also attend monthly in-service to get support from other volunteers and deepen their understanding of long-term care issues.
A coordinator for the program works closely with volunteers to support their efforts and teach them the art, as well as tasks associated with advocacy in this setting. Volunteers are asked to commit to spending three hours a week in long-term care facilities, attend in-service monthly, document concerns and their resolutions, and maintain confidentiality. Hours are flexible and volunteers set their own schedule. A volunteer will always have access to support, advice and help from state ombudsmen.
By 2030 New Mexico will rank fourth in the nation for percentage of individuals over the age of 65 with the fastest growing group being those over 85 years old. What are the chances that you will someday reside in a long-term care facility? Who do you hope will look after your care if you can no longer advocate for yourself? Do you have a loved one far away in a long-term care facility? Who is looking out for them? These residents are our mothers, our fathers, our friends, our school teachers, our admired mentors and now they are dependent on us to rally our most compassionate, creative and intelligent volunteers to ensure that, these, our elders, may live their later years comfortably and with dignity.
An informational session is scheduled with a regional coordinator for the Ombudsman Program, Gigi Greco, on Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, 1101 Bathtub Row in Los Alamos. If you are interested in learning more about how to become an ombudsman, please consider attending. Interested volunteers can also speak with Sarah Chandler at the volunteer office at the Betty Ehart Senior Center or call her at (505) 662-8923.