No one was hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than residents of long-term care.
Living in “restricted” situations for much of the past year and a half, our family and neighbors living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities experienced prolonged social isolation. In addition to the harm that can result from isolation itself, the lack of visitors observing quality of care and helping address concerns left too many residents without an advocate.
The Washington State Long-Term Care 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.
Ombuds: A Swedish word meaning “to advocate for another”
We rely on trained volunteers who visit residents inside long-term care facilities. Volunteers are the eyes and ears, assessing how residents are doing. We flag incidents of poor quality of care and violations of residents’ rights, resolve complaints, and serve as a voice for residents who too often just don’t have one.
Volunteers help residents with complaints about care, quality of life, and well-being, including reports of abuse, neglect, and substandard care. Ombuds resolve more than 90 percent of the complaints received and reduce the need for costly government or legal interventions. They provide critical support to ensure that quality of care and the residents’ rights are upheld.
Ombuds volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. One of the things they like best about their role is the social connections they make with other volunteers and folks in their community.
Herman Gilman, a recently certified volunteer Ombuds in King County, commented on his experience:
“I wanted to contribute to the care community after receiving nursing care myself. It’s important to me that seniors have their rights advocated for and have a quality experience when they live in long term care facilities. Residents want to talk to you, and we learn together how to tackle the issues they are concerned about. It’s particularly rewarding to see when people are happy where they are. It’s enriching to listen to folks’ stories. They tell me amazing things! A lot of the restrictions have been lifted, so we have more access, and the need is high. I encourage folks to apply to become a volunteer long-term care ombuds.”
Volunteering is good for your health
Research shows that volunteering leads to health benefits, especially in older adults.
- 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, and
- builds social connections and support systems as you meet new people with shared interests.
All ombuds are trained in infection control and issues in 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.
I am always impressed with the dedication and determination of our volunteers!
Your neighbors in long-term care need you
Residents of long-term care and nursing homes in your neighborhood need you. In King County, 12 new volunteers have been certified this past year. Together, by becoming a certified long-term care ombuds, we can make sure residents have advocates to protect their rights.
Contributor Pamela Williams is the King County Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman, based in Federal Way. Pamela can be reached at email@example.com.
Ensuring the Rights, Dignity and Well-Being of Individuals Living in Long-Term Care …Today and Tomorrow
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. For information about all Multi-Service Center programs and services, visit www.mschelps.org.