BMAC offers advocacy for facility residents, more

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Sometimes you need an advocate looking out for your interests. The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program through Blue Mountain Action Council provides advocacy for residents of long-term care facilities, as well as much more.

The overall purpose of the ombudsman program is to promote the interests, well-being and rights of long-term care facility residents. A volunteer is an advocate that offers education, consultation and resolutions of complaints. The organization offers extensive training for the volunteers.

"The program is going really well. We have a real good volunteer base here in Walla Walla and since most of the work is done by volunteers, that is extremely good," said Kathy Stevenson, Southeastern Washington Regional Long Term Care Ombudsman.

According to Stevenson, the crisis in the economy has affected everything, including the ombudsman program. "We are seeing more cases and complaints individually because of the economy. Staffing cuts and facility cuts to save the bottom line," she said.

Getting the information out and educating the community is a priority. "Our main goal is to educate residents and their families about what their rights are; it's the people's rights, you can't be advocated for if you don't know what your rights are."

Because of cutbacks in budgets, she said that food service in a facility often is cut. "It could have been at grade B, now it's grade F, not as tasty or something. Of course staffing changes have really impacted care. The impact of issues locally include a lack of staffing and lack of training of staff."

"There's such a reward in what we do, to be able to help someone and their family. It gives you a sense of peace. And finally finding out that you're not the only ones having that problem. It's critical to managing your care. You have the right to speak," Stevenson said.

Ombudsman volunteer Marta Dilworth echoed those sentiments and added, "It means one less elderly person taken advantage of, either through ignorance or abuse." Education is the foundation of their accomplishments. According to Dilworth, the future of adult care is on the verge of huge change.

"The future will have a different complexion on things. We will be starting onto the generation of questioners. There was a generation of us that didn't question anything. This will change the complexion of what we do. We will need more people and it will bring serious change in adult care."

The ombudsman is neutral, a mediator. "We're onsite, we already know the people, know the environment, know the administration, we are trusted." According to Dilworth, the way to really communicate so you help everyone is to balance criticism with something positive. "We learn how to be diplomatic," she said. That's the way to really effect change. We make friends with both the staff and the residents. Both see us as an arbitrator rather than someone who's finger-pointing." Another important point is that the ombudsman never discusses anything with the staff unless the elderly person has given permission.

Volunteers are always needed and encouraged to apply for the program. You can get experience and the satisfaction of knowing you're helping others. Training sessions are held whenever the organization has enough applicants for volunteer positions.

"We're hoping to have a certification training session in the late summer or early fall," she said.

For more information, call 509-386-5176 or visit these websites: Southeastern Washington Ombudsman Program, www.seawaombudsman.com or Long Term Care Consumer Advocacy Outreach www.ltcop.org

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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