Ombudsman Spotlight Archives

Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth KellyHow 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 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.