Ombudsman Spotlight Archives

Spotlight Interview Tina Strang Region 12

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.


Spotlight Interview Amber Franzel Region 2A

Amber Franzel

How long have you been an ombudsman?

7 years

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.”


Elizabeth KellyElizabeth Kelly

How many years have you been an ombudsman?

I have been an ombudsman for 8 years.

What made you want to become an ombudsman?

I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in a nursing home in Denver as a teenager. It was my first experience working with older adults and people living with disabilities. Later, I became a Respiratory Therapist and worked in acute care settings. After obtaining my Social Work degree, I worked as a medical social worker in a hospital setting. So, all those experiences involved working with people who needed medical and psychosocial care. By the time I learned of an opening for a long-term care ombudsman nearby I knew what an ombudsman did, and it was a perfect fit for me. I worked as long-term care ombudsman for Larimer county for about five years. I loved it. I went on to work in other roles serving older adults and people living with disabilities and then, a few years ago, moved to southern Colorado where I am once again working as an ombudsman.

What surprised you most about being an ombudsman?

How much I would miss it. After I left the Larimer County Ombudsman Program, I had occasion to visit people or attend meetings in nursing homes as an attorney or court visitor. Each time I sensed how much I missed working directly with residents as an ombudsman.

What do you most enjoy about being an ombudsman?

Working directly with residents. Whether it is an elder or a younger person living in a care facility, connecting with the resident as a unique human being is very satisfying. Listening to a resident’s lived experience, to the concerns they have now, is the essential first step for an ombudsman. Problem solving, educating, advocating – all are tools we use to stand next to a resident as they direct us in resolving their complaint.

Tell us two to three positive changes you are working to achieve in the communities that you serve.

As a local ombudsman program, we are progressing towards creating a stable, well-staffed program serving Las Animas and Huerfano counties in southern Colorado. This last year we hired another ombudsman and have been training her to prepare for her certification as an ombudsman. An additional ombudsman will help ensure better coverage for our region.

During the pandemic, we used more social media, technology (including tablets donated to area care facilities) and other non-traditional means to reach residents and their families.

We are also planning to do more outreach to develop family councils in the communities we serve. Residents of long-term care facilities are our neighbors and integrating them into the communities in which they live is important to their wellbeing. This would also assist in decreasing the isolation and stigma that sometimes comes with living in a long-term care facility.

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

Yes, my Poverty Law professor gave a rousing speech at graduation and exhorted us to, “Be bold! Be bold! Be bold!” in our work with others.

Vinni FerraraVinni Ferrara

How long have you been an ombudsman?
12 years

What made you want to become an ombudsman?
I have taken care of my parents at home and then I was a hospice volunteer for four years. I also exclusively visited nursing homes when I was a hospice volunteer. I saw the need for advocacy and I thought if there was a job I could get hired to do, I would want to do advocacy. I knew the job of the ombudsman would be the job for me and it has been perfect for me. I wanted to help people have a better quality of life.

What has surprised you the most in being an ombudsman?
The complexity of the issues that residents face. What I saw first as a volunteer was residents getting woken up early, dressed, and taken to the dining room. As I worked more, I saw the complexity of resident rights violations and the other issues residents face. The most complex resident rights violation is the resident’s desire to have their choice of food, and I was surprised by that as I learned what complications came up. For example, a resident who wanted bacon, but the staff said the resident has difficulty chewing and swallowing, which can cause a choking hazard. It took a few weeks to resolve the concern and make sure the facility satisfied the resident’s request for a choice of meals. You would not think a food issue would be that complex.

What do you most enjoy about being an ombudsman?
When I was going into facilities, the most gratifying thing would be to resolve a problem for a resident who felt hopeless, and I resolved their concern for them. It was worth everything to see their satisfaction with the resolution on their face. Now that I am working with the Regional Ombudsmen at State LTCOP, I enjoy collaborating and assisting them.

Tell us the top 2 or 3 positive changes that you are working to achieve in the communities that you serve.
Since I have been the Program Manager with State LTCOP, I think we have had better communication between State LTCOP and local ombudsman programs around the state, which is better for residents and ombudsmen.

I also think we have improved the quality of our data, in order to get accurate data for systemic advocacy.

During the pandemic, the importance of supporting LTCOP and strategizing on staying in touch with the residents. We have learned a lot, and it will benefit the program in the future.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your work as an advocate?
“No voice is too soft when that voice speaks for others.” Janna Cachola is an actress and singer from New Zealand.