JAN NOYES: Here’s the thing… I’m looking for volunteers

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I won’t mince words. I’m looking for more special people who are interested in becoming volunteer ombudsmen …advocates for residents living in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Let me explain what an ombudsman is and why they’re needed.

Ombudsmen can talk with residents confidentially and can go anywhere in the facilities. For example, an ombudsman can look in the refrigerators for adequate supply and safe food storage, check out the menus and activity schedules to see if they’re being followed, ask questions about facility procedures and policies, investigate problems to find solutions and, with the resident’s permission, look at private medical records. Long-term care ombudsmen have access to whatever is needed to look into a problem reported to us or one that we ourselves find.

I’m an ombudsman, one of three paid and 12 volunteer advocates. We visit long-term care facilities and help solve problems that the vulnerable residents living there can’t solve on their own. We visit with residents and keep our eyes and ears open. Our concerns are resident rights, quality of care and quality of life.

The quality of facilities across the country has vastly improved over the years, even though problems still linger. Here in North Idaho, we have some good facilities, but there are problems to solve. Problems affecting the quality of care and quality of life continue without oversight. That’s why we need volunteers to visit facilities and be the voices for the residents.

People are sometimes surprised at the large number of facilities we have here in the five northern counties — 36 assisted living (62 individual houses) and 12 skilled nursing facilities. It takes a lot of attention to visit every facility, observe what’s going on, talk with residents and solve problems.

The Older Americans Act added the Ombudsman Program to give the residents in long-term care a voice. Volunteers were added to the program to provide more voices. They get to know the residents, build trust and rapport, and make a difference just by being there as an advocate.

Volunteers are well-trained. Upon completion of the training, the volunteers become Assistant Ombudsman ready and able, with ample assistance and support, of course. The new ombudsmen are mentored until they are comfortable going on their own. Every six weeks there is an ombudsman meeting where we get together and share experiences, ideas and have additional training presented.

Being a volunteer ombudsman is a rewarding way to give back, to make life better for those needing our assistance, and to do something that has real meaning. Volunteering is not only a worthy way to give to the community, but volunteering is good for you, physically, mentally and spiritually.

The next volunteer ombudsman training is Sept. 11 through Oct. 23, one day a week for seven weeks, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you’re interested in joining our team, please call Jan Noyes at the Area Agency on Aging, 208-667-3179, ext. 243 or jnoyes@nic.edu.

• • •

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

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