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Life in a nursing home or rest home can be unsettling for residents. Many feel powerless or forgotten. When problems occur, some residents do not believe that it is actually within their rights to complain.
Our Long-term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program, which relies heavily on volunteers, seeks to empower residents to take control of their lives just as they did in their former homes. When this is not the case, the LTC Ombudsman will step in with the resident’s permission to attempt to resolve the issues at hand.
BayPath recently conducted a Q&A with longtime Ombudsman volunteer, Ava Zinn, and gained some insight as to what makes up the many facets of this role.
BayPath: What made you initially become a volunteer of our Ombudsman program?
Ava: About five years ago, my career took a turn resulting in my retiring ahead of what I originally planned. I discovered that I wanted to do more with my time and looked into several volunteer opportunities. I have always been supportive of seniors and the obstacles they face as they age and have personal experience as a caregiver for my dad, so when I discovered the Ombudsman program at BayPath, I knew it was something I wanted to contribute my time to.
BayPath: What are the main things you look for when you visit a long-term care facility?
Ava: Patient advocacy is the primary role of a Long-term Care Ombudsman. The most common complaints that residents share with me range from not getting the food that they ordered, receiving meals late or at inconsistent times, having to wait a long time for staff to help them with an ADL (activity of daily living), having an aide or other staff members not show compassion or display impatience while offering care, or a general feeling that no one at the facility is really listening to their needs or requests. I find that sometimes the residents just need to feel like someone has their best interests at heart.
BayPath: What kind of time commitment does volunteering entail?
Ava: I support residents in three different nursing homes and visit each one time per week. I can spend up to two hours at a facility on average. But, when something really requires my attention, I spend the time needed to resolve the issue.
BayPath: What are some of the challenges you face?
Ava: Building up trust with the residents is the biggest challenge. My first priority is to advocate for them, however, to do so, I also need to spend time discussing concerns with the staff of the facility. I have had residents initially be reluctant to share with me if they happen to see me having conversations with the care providers. I was trained by Mary Brooks, the Director of BayPath’s Ombudsman program, who advised me to get to know the residents so that conversations with them are more personal and show them that I do care about their well-being. Additionally, Staff can sometimes be guarded when speaking with me due to the nature of my role, so I work to maintain positive associations with them so that they are more receptive to working on resolutions to the issues that I bring to light.
BayPath: Can you share one of the instances that your work as a volunteer was particularly gratifying?
Ava: One resident that I supported was bedridden due to a stroke. Every time I spoke with this resident, they never complained or asked for anything. I was surprised on one visit to hear the resident say that they were not getting their juice. When I investigated, I learned that it was a juice they did not typically order. After speaking with the person in charge of food orders, I explained that this resident was not someone to complain or have unreasonable requests; all that they are asking for is juice. While juice may seem insignificant, it was the one thing this individual wished for to make the remainder of their life more comfortable. The juice was sourced, and the resident began receiving the juice with all three meals. The fact that I could be the voice for someone and help find a solution to something that may seem small but meant the world to that individual is why I enjoy volunteering and continue to do so.
For information about BayPath’s Ombudsman program visit: http://www.baypath.org/Ombudsman.html
To inquire about becoming an Ombudsman Volunteer please email Ombudsman Program Director, Mary Brooks.