Ombudsman Spotlight

How long have you been an ombudsman? 3 years

 

What made you want to become an ombudsman?

I have always wanted to make a difference in whatever career path I was traveling. Before taking this job, I was an administrator for home health, home care, and senior nutrition programs in a rural area. There were lots of opportunities for advocacy during this time as urban hospitals sometimes did not fully understand that individuals living in rural areas encounter many barriers to accessing proper care. That job became more administrative over time with less person-to-person interaction, and I missed interaction. When the opportunity was presented to me to become an ombudsman advocating for residents in long-term care, I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do.

 

What surprised you most about being an ombudsman?

 The thing that surprised me the most was that ombudsmen are not mandatory reporters. After years of mandatory reporting training, I had to learn and understand the philosophy and reasoning behind it. Once I understood that it had to do with the confidentiality of our program, it made perfect sense. The stark reality of the loneliness of those living in facilities without any support system like family or friends has come to light in a whole new way. These individuals truly have no place to turn or anyone to talk to about the things that concern them. They feel they don’t have anyone to assist them with complex issues. That has brought home the importance of the long- term care ombudsman program.

What do you most enjoy about being an ombudsman?

One of the things I enjoy the most about being an ombudsman is that it requires continuous learning and growth; learning to be a better listener; learning how to support, encourage, and empower residents to advocate for themselves as well as learning new and innovative ways to help make their lives better. When I see the smile on a resident’s face on a visit, it is very gratifying. I learned how powerful music could be for people living with dementia and then had my own personal experience with that concept. On one of my visits to a facility, I knelt in front of a resident that I was familiar with and who was sitting silently in the hallway. This resident was in the end stages of dementia, and I began singing, ever so terribly, a song that is familiar to most people, and watched the resident’s face light up at the sound. Then the resident joined in the words of the song with me. This resident had not attempted any verbal communication in months. That was very moving and one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I also enjoy the part of my job that is educating residents, families, community members, and staff on the residents’ rights and what mechanisms are in place to protect those who call the long-term care community they live in their home.

Tell us 2-3 positive changes you are working to achieve in the communities that you serve.

  • I am working to see that effective communication is accomplished within the care communities I serve. Many individuals living with blindness, those who have difficulty hearing, those living with dementia, as well as those who speak another language, other than English, are sometimes left without effective ways to communicate with caregivers or other staff.
  • I am working to connect those who need further supports, especially in assisted living, with the community resources they need.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has given me, as an ombudsman, an opportunity to educate our communities on the challenges faced by individuals living within these long-term care communities. It has given me an opportunity to spotlight the systemic changes that need to be made to properly meet the complex needs of residents in these settings.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your work as an advocate?

A quote that inspires and energizes me in my work is “We can do hard things”: Author unknown

I do have a belief that one person can make a difference. I might not change the world, but I might be able to change one person’s world if I take the time to listen- to truly listen, without preconceived ideas or judgements, and take the opportunity to learn. In so doing I do not just learn about that person; I learn about myself as well.

This is heart work even more than it is head work, and with an open heart much can be accomplished.

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