It could be dirty floors, a foul smell, or just a complaint of persistent cold food. But what Timi Elwood looks for in her visits to the long-term care facility she is assigned to in southeast Portland are clues that tell her about the care and quality of life of residents. A 10-year veteran volunteer of Oregon’s Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Elwood says, “You want to see the residents up, dressed, and engaged and enjoying life as best as they can.”
Today, Elwood is one of 100 certified volunteer ombudsmen across the state working to ensure that 40,000 Oregonians living in long-term care facilities enjoy freedom from abuse and neglect and the ability to make choices about their care. Trained and authorized to visit care facilities, Elwood advocates for residents and investigates complaints.
How to Find an Ombudsman
If you or your loved one has an unresolved issue with a long-term care facility and need assistance to get the problem corrected, there are several ways you can find an ombudsman. Check for a sign posted in the long-term care facility that lists the ombudsman’s office and phone number or ask the staff for information. In Oregon, the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is available toll-free at 800-522-2602 or online at www.oregon.gov/LTCO.
The Ombudsman is an independent state agency, and its mission is to enhance the quality of life, improve the level of care, protect individuals’ rights and promote the dignity of each Oregonian residing in licensed long-term care facilities.
What the Ombudsman Will Do
Ombudsmen have been trained to investigate and resolve complaints about nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. Once an ombudsman has been assigned to a case, he or she will listen to the complaint, talk to the resident about it, investigate the problem and try to resolve it by working with the staff of the facility. If needed, they will also notify the agency that licenses and regulates the facility. In addition, they can provide information on residents’ rights and how to find a quality nursing home, answer questions about procedures, eligibility and payment as well as help you understand the resident contract. The ombudsmen’s services are free of charge.
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have a right to quality care that is free from abuse, neglect, discrimination or retaliation. If there is a problem with the care you or a loved one is receiving, be sure to speak up. Talk to an ombudsman if something doesn’t seem right. Remember, it is the ombudsmen’s job to lend support to long-term care residents, to protect their rights and to help them get the best care.
Become a Volunteer
“Certified Ombudsmen volunteers are needed in all areas of the state,” says Gretchen Jordan, Volunteer Recruiter for the Oregon Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. “They are a critical link to ensure quality care for those most vulnerable.”
In Elwood’s case, she began volunteering after seeing a call from AARP for ombudsman volunteers. “When I saw it, I thought I can do that. I enjoy elders. They have wisdom and stories to tell. They are fun to be around.”
Elwood points out that residents, especially those in the nursing home side who have to rely on caregivers for basic needs, often feel vulnerable. “It is usually not malicious intent. People who work in these facilities care about their jobs and about the residents. But, sometimes residents just need an advocate.”
A former high school teacher of 30 years, Elwood spends between 10 to 15 hours a month in her volunteer role and says she enjoys the flexibility of the position. “I don’t have to be at a given place at given time.” Though there are scheduled meetings and conference to attend, she likes being able to drop in anytime for a visit just to check things out, chat with residents or talk to care managers.
At the invitation of residents, Elwood also attends meetings and listens to concerns and complaints and then works to get them resolved. Sometimes she is invited by the facility staff to sit in on care conferences as a resident advocate. Elwood says that often her role is that of a mediator who helps work out issues for a win-win situation.
After more than a decade of volunteer ombudsman service, Elwood is still going strong and as committed as when she started. She urges other AARP members to consider the opportunity. “You truly can make a difference. You just need to be a people person, enjoy elders, be able to listen, see both sides and sift facts. And above all, be there for the resident.”
Certified Ombudsman need statewide! AARP Oregon is working with the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman to recruit AARP members as volunteer ombudsmen. Join our two organizations this spring at a community forum in your community! Whether you are concerned about your own future, the care of a loved one or you want to learn more about becoming involved in ensuring quality of life for vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities in long-term care facilities, join us to learn more and get engaged. Events are scheduled for March 16th Lincoln City and Newport, April 28th LaGrande and Hermiston and May 4th Bend and Redmond. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-554-5360 for more information on these and other events.