The COVID pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our lives, economy, friends, and families. No one was hit harder than residents of long-term care—nearly 74,000 Washingtonians who live in more than 4,300 long-term care homes across the state.
Living in restricted situations for much of the past year and a half, residents were in isolation, with no visitors, spending many days without seeing friends or family members. Social isolation has caused rapid decline in cognitive, emotional, and physical health, and even death among long-term care residents.
Now that we know how to best protect against infection with vaccination, masks, hand washing, and social distancing, we can rebuild our social connections, and our sense of community. Brighter days are ahead, and the new year is a good time to commit to taking action that improves the well-being of your neighbors and your own health.
The Washington State Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program is an independent program with the mission of advocating for the rights of residents living in nursing homes and similar licensed long-term care settings.
We rely on trained volunteers who visit residents inside long-term care facilities. Volunteers are “the eyes and ears.” They assess how residents are doing, flag incidents of poor quality of care and violations of residents’ rights and resolve complaints. They are often the voice for residents who don’t have one.
In a typical year, volunteers donate more than 45,000 hours of their time as they address complaints about care, quality of life, and well-being, including reports of abuse, neglect, and substandard care.
Often, I reflect on the critical role that program volunteers play. I have seen firsthand the meaning of dedication and understanding from volunteers working with vulnerable adults in long-term care. The thoughtfulness and passion our volunteers show help to ensure quality care for older people living in long-term care facilities. Our volunteers give the gift of compassion and concern for a special slice of humanity.
Ombuds resolve over 90 percent of the complaints received and reduce the need for costly government or legal interventions, and they provide critical support to ensure the quality of care and the rights of residents are being upheld.
Ombuds volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They report that one of the things they like best about their role is the social connections they make with volunteers and others in their community.
“The folks I work with, the staff and the volunteers, they’re good people, people who are genuinely concerned about residents,” said Charlie Thompson, a volunteer ombudsman. “For residents in long term care, one of the biggest challenges is a loss of one’s independence.That’s really hard. I see my role as an advocate, someone who will stand up for them.”
Volunteering is good for your health
Research shows that volunteering leads to health benefits, especially in older adults. Volunteering:
- keeps you moving and thinking, providing physical and mental health benefits.
- reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
- provides a sense of purpose, increasing life satisfaction and self-esteem.
- builds social connections and support systems as you meet new people with shared interests.
All ombuds are trained in infection control and issues related to 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.
Your neighbors in long-term care need you
From 2019 to 2021, as a result of the pandemic lock-down, consultations with residents and their family members plummeted from 41,000 to 13,000. Cases received and complaints filed were half the norm because residents did not have access to their ombuds advocates.
Now, with protective measures in place, the Washington State LTC Ombudsman Program is seeking new volunteers from every community in King County.
Residents of long-term care and nursing homes in your neighborhood need you. Consider becoming a volunteer ombuds—giving a gift to your community, and to yourself.
Help us spread the word about the urgent need for volunteers to help provide a lifeline to residents of long-term care homes by forwarding a link to this article to your friends and family.
Contributor Pamela J. Williams (pictured above) is the Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman for King County. You can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the information and complaint line at 206-623-0816.
The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is operated by Multi-Service Center. Multi-Service Center is a 501c3 nonprofit agency that offers people pathways out of poverty through support and resources in education, employment, housing, energy assistance, food, and clothing. More information can be found online at www.mschelps.org.