JAN NOYES: Why do residents of long-term care need ombudsmen?

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Susan was given the wrong medication; Sarah sat in a wet brief for one hour until her call light was answered; David was moved to another room without notice; Louis was given a discharge notice without due process; Brenda was told she has to shower at 7 a.m., Ben’s daughter dictated who can visit him; Rita’s care plan was not followed; Betty‘s privacy isn’t respected. That’s the short list. The list goes on.

I’m an ombudsman, an advocate, a problem-solver for people living in assisted living and nursing homes. Many people think that all the residents are safe, well taken care of, and even enjoying their “golden years.” The truth is, there are very few long-term care residents who wouldn’t go back to the life they had, if only they could.

But those days are gone. They’re now dependent on others for the everyday activities that we all take for granted … eating, bathing, toileting, dressing.

Living in long-term care can make life easier. It can alleviate the danger of living alone, the stress of caregiving when it becomes too difficult or even dangerous, and the loneliness of isolation when everyday activities become too much of a challenge.

We have good facilities here in the five northern counties that place the welfare of residents first. Good care is the upside to long-term care. But the downside is that we also have facilities that place the bottom line and facility convenience first. That’s where the ombudsmen come in.

Before the Older Americans Act was put in place in the mid-1900s, there was no oversight on “old folks’ homes.” Conditions were terrible all over the country with no laws or oversight to protect the residents. Congress enacted the OAA and later incorporated the Ombudsman Program I’ve been a part of for the past 11 years.

Ombudsmen visit facilities with eyes and ears open. They talk with residents, inform them of their rights, and problem-solve when residents can’t, won’t, or don’t successfully advocate for themselves. Ombudsmen are their much needed voices.

Complaints can originate with the ombudsman, resident, family member, friend, or any interested person. The ombudsman addresses the complaint with the intention of finding a solution that the resident agrees with.

This is the time of year I start a series of articles about the ombudsman program and long-term care. The reason for the articles is two-fold. One, to inform you about the program. Two, to inspire you to sign up for the ombudsman training.

We currently have an active volunteer program with 13 volunteers, mostly retired men and women, who do an admirable and rewarding job of advocating. We welcome new volunteers every year.

Join our team! The training is from Sept. 11 to Oct. 23, one day a week for seven weeks. On completion, you become an Assistant Ombudsman, well-prepared to advocate for long-term care residents.

For more information, please contact Jan Noyes, Area Agency on Aging, at 208-776-3179 or jnoyes@aaani.org.

• • •

Jan Noyes is the volunteer ombudsman coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging.

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