By: Sheryl Sowell | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: February 2011
(L to R): Lesley Smiley, Sarah Strecker and Loretta Bailey, LTC ombudsman supervisors.
Ombudsman is a Swedish word meaning “voice of the people.” If you’re concerned about the needs of older citizens and would like to help be their voice, a volunteer opportunity is available for you to become an advocate for those living in nursing homes, assisted living or residential care facilities. The INCOG Area Agency on Aging LTC Ombudsman Program is hosting a new volunteer training session on Thursday, February 10 and Thursday, February 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers are required to attend the complete 12 hours of training to become certified. Training sessions will take place at the Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood in Tulsa.
“We are looking for people 18 and over who have a strong dedication to the senior population,” explains Sarah Strecker, LTC ombudsman supervisor. “We are advocates for an often-forgotten population, and we strive to improve the quality of their lives.”
To become a volunteer, the applicant must have a concern about older people and their needs, along with the ability to see each as an individual, be able to work with many types of people without being judgmental, be responsible and willing and able to follow problems to their resolution, be able to accept training and supervision, be free from conflicts of interest, and pass an OSBI background check.
“Confidentiality is one of the most important qualities a volunteer should have – a good listening ear is a must,” adds Lesley Smiley, LTC ombudsman supervisor.
Applicants are required to spend at least two hours per week in the program and attend one two-hour training session per month after certification. The monthly training sessions are offered three times a month at three different locations to accommodate a variety of schedules.
The comprehensive training program helps volunteers develop skills such as problem solving and communication, the processes of aging, and long-term care facility laws and regulations. “The program teaches volunteers how to communicate with both administrators and residents, and we thoroughly cover laws and regulations concerning residents’ rights,” says Loretta Bailey, LTC ombudsman supervisor.
Upon completion of the training program, volunteers are certified for one facility. “We take the newly-certified ombudsmen to their facility to familiarize them with everyone, as well as the facility itself. During volunteer hours, the ombudsman visits with all residents in the facility, with the residents’ consent, and begins building relationships with them. It is important for the resident to trust that they have an advocate if an issue arises. Some residents have no family, and 60 percent do not receive visitors,” says Lesley. “Volunteers are there to empower residents and help them feel secure and not intimidated if they have a problem.”
An ombudsman helps improve the quality of life and the quality of care available to the residents by receiving complaints from them, their friends or relatives, and attempting to resolve those complaints within the facility. The ombudsman has the authority to explore problems and recommend corrective action. Complaints may involve dietary issues, bathing issues, medical problems, involuntary discharge letters, environmental issues and more. “Often the complaints are common problems; for example a resident who is frustrated because their roommate keeps the television too loud. Volunteers help residents solve problems of everyday life,” explains Loretta.
“Becoming a volunteer ombudsman takes a special person who truly cares about the older population,” says Sarah. “Our volunteers agree that if it’s right for you, this is an extremely satisfying, worthwhile pursuit.”
The INCOG Area Agency on Aging LTC Ombudsman Program serves all long-term care facilities in Creek, Osage and Tulsa Counties. For more information or to sign up for the February training session, contact Lesley at (918) 596-7685 or eat0@eau0eav0eaw0; Sarah at (918) 596-7210 or eat1@eau1eav1eaw1; or Loretta at (918) 596-7657 or eat2@eau2eav2eaw2.
Sheryl Sowell was born and raised in Tulsa, OK. She graduated from Will Rogers High School and received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Northeastern State University in 2007. She has worked for Value News as editor, writer and advertising copywriter since 2008. She enjoys meeting and interviewing people for Value News articles, learning about their backgrounds, and helping to promote their businesses and local events. In her free time, she enjoys reading, trying new recipes and crafts from Pinterest, attending concerts and sporting events, and spending time with family and friends. Sheryl lives in Tulsa with her fiancé Paul, their daughter Scarlett, and their two dogs, Gunner and Boo.