Giving a voice to long term care residents

Marilyn Goldfarb decided to volunteer in elder advocacy after she observed the poor care of her mother when she was in the rehab division of a nursing home. She wanted to be sure that facilities were providing quality care for residents and ensure that their rights and dignity were being respected.

“What I didn’t realize at the time was how rewarding ... it would be to get to know and spend quality time with these experience-rich elders.”

This is Goldfarb’s seventh year committing her time to the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.

Ombudsman is a Swedish word meaning “citizen representative.” The program is helpful to anyone age 60 and older living in a nursing facility, personal care home, domiciliary care home or attending an adult daily living center.

The program was established in 1965, through the Older Americans Act, to help residents resolve problems with their quality of care. Volunteers were incorporated as a vital component in the mid-’90s.

Ombudsmen are members of the community trained to meet with and advocate for the residents of nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living facilities. Pennsylvania requires a one-day mandated training before any visitation can be done and volunteers attend an orientation with the ombudsman from the Centre County Office of Aging.

Afterward, volunteers are assigned a facility and begin their visits, representing six important directives. The program is resident-driven (nothing happens without their approval), ombudsmen are highly visible and have access to residents, facilities and records. They also operate within the law, maintain impartiality and are nonpartisan.

“The program is a great way of making sure the elderly are taken care of the way they should be,” said Linda Spangler, one the newest volunteers. “It gives me a good feeling when I see the smiles on their faces when I arrive at the facility. ... There is nothing more rewarding then my volunteer work.”

Ombudsmen work with residents to solve problems, educate and advocate. They encourage residents to self-advocate to the best of their ability and give them to tools to find their voice. This includes solving problems that may seem simple, like having good food and a private place to talk with guests.

It also includes working through more complicated issues, like directing health care and changing services. In doing so, ombudsmen do their best to maximize each resident’s quality of life as that individual defines it.

The ombudsman program affects lives in visible ways. Sixty percent of residents in long term care facilities do not receive visitors.

Ombudsmen can go into facility homes and make meaningful contact with people who may not otherwise have any.

Georgina Manahan has been volunteering for six years. “I love the time I spend in facilities as a volunteer ombudsman. As I spend time in a facility, I am able to build relationships with the residents I visit. I truly enjoy spending time with them, getting to know them and their stories. ... Providing information and enabling residents to have a voice is this way is the most rewarding aspect of the ombudsman program.”