Spotlight Interview Amber Franzel Region 2A
How long have you been an ombudsman?
What made you want to become an ombudsman?
I’ve done a variety of things in my career, from crisis intervention with Adult Protective Services, case management supervision in community mental health, vocational work with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD), agency policy work, and therapy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I believe all of those skills were positioning me for the ombudsman program, as I’m able to use a lot of those skills in advocating for residents. It is an incredible marriage of skills that works well with advocacy, which is what I really like to do. It’s not that I didn’t like all those other things, it just feels like it fits with my experience, the population I like to work with, and as though it was meant to be.
What surprised you most about being an ombudsman?
What surprised me most was the need for a program like this and how unique it is. There are a lot of services working toward similar goals like risk reduction, culture change, and protection & advocacy; but this program has such a unique focus on resident rights and a resident’s expressed interest. It makes such a difference to a resident’s quality of life to have their voice heard and to be part of their care and planning process. I was surprised I hadn’t heard more about it before. We need so much more of this.
What do you most enjoy about being an ombudsman?
I think seeing a change that happens because of something that I did or was involved in. I think we have a difficult job in having to manage so many different issues and often need to come up with creative solutions which can be challenging. I value those incremental changes, like improving a care plan or having a staff member better understand unmet needs because of education I provided or a referral I made. That is so meaningful. I try to focus on those small successes to maintain a positive attitude and recharge my advocacy efforts.
Tell us 2-3 positive changes you are working to achieve in the communities that you serve.
Before the pandemic, we were working on the CO-PEER program and that has been a big success. It is a program that trains residents how to self-advocate and resolve complaints for themselves. We were able to develop it using information from a program in Pennsylvania that has been running for years. It gave a lot to us, to residents and I think it gave a lot to facilities. They had a big part in the training and it felt more like a team effort as opposed to the just the ombudsmen pointing out areas where the facility/provider needed to make improvements. It involved residents in actively changing their home for the better.
Our team is very proud of the tablet donation project we worked on at the beginning of the pandemic. We secured 165 tablets and were able to get them into every facility and into the hands of residents themselves. While we wanted to reduce social isolation, the tablets also made our jobs as advocates easier. We created some very clear guidelines for providers about how they were to be used, how to clean them and easy tech guides to try to troubleshoot technical issues early. We also asked that Skype be set up and each of our Ombudsman Skype addresses be added to make contact with residents that much simpler. We also made it clear that residents should be able to use the tablets to connect with family and medical providers if they wished. As a result, we were nominated for the “Larimer County Innovation Award”.
I am on the board for an organization called Sound Affects. It is a local non-profit music programming organization which connects local and even well-known musicians with senior care communities to offer live performances while paying the artists the going rate. Typically, artists perform at night so our thought was to pair artists with senior care communities during the day when they are not as busy and would more likely be available for an outdoor or virtual concert. It was an option most musicians had not thought of and it gave them a broader audience. When group activities stopped, we had to be creative, so musicians started doing some online concerts and sending virtual telegrams with music to residents. People in the community could purchase these as gifts and an artist would perform a song for that resident; we had a lot bought as Christmas gifts which was fun. Musicians also performed outdoor concerts for senior care communities which were very well received. Sometimes the facility paid whatever they were able/willing to pay, and the organization would pick up the difference. This is supplemented through donations, grants and fundraising efforts.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your work as an advocate?
Samantha Power: “All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.”