The COVID pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our lives, economy, friends, and families. No one was hit harder than residents of long-term care -- nearly 80,000 Washingtonians who live in more than 4,300 long-term care homes across the state.
Living in “restricted” situations for much of the past year and a half, residents were like prisoners, with no visitors, spending many days without seeing their friends, family members, or neighbors. Many residents are still in “lock-down,” with the delta variant spreading in some communities. And some homes have even closed or announced plans to close by the end of the year, leaving residents scrambling to find a place to live.
Some residents don’t have anyone. Some are in facilities that are far away from home. Sometimes just saying a few words and making sure they know you’re there for them makes a huge difference. - Skip Harrold, Certified Ombuds Walla Walla County
The social isolation has caused a “double pandemic,” causing the rapid decline and even death among long-term care residents.
The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an independent program with the mission of advocating for the rights of residents living in nursing homes and similar licensed long-term care settings. We rely on trained volunteers who visit residents inside long-term care facilities. Volunteers are the eyes and ears, assessing how residents are doing, flagging incidents of poor quality of care, and violations of residents’ rights, resolving complaints, and being the voice for residents who too often just don’t have one.
In a typical year, volunteers donate more than 45,000 hours towards addressing complaints about care, quality of life, and well-being, including reports of abuse, neglect, and substandard care. Ombuds resolve over 90% of the complaints received and reduce the need for costly government or legal interventions, and provide critical support to ensure the quality of care and the rights of residents are being upheld.
Ombudsman program volunteers genuinely enjoy their work, build community and make social connections themselves. Research shows that volunteering leads to health benefits, especially in older adults.
[They were] really suffering an injustice. I was mad to see injustice, and I wanted them to get a solution. I wanted there to be someone to represent them. --Marilyn Fisher, Certified Ombuds Chelan County.
- keeps you moving and thinking, providing physical and mental health benefits,
- reduces stress, anxiety, and depression,
- provides a sense of purpose, increasing life satisfaction and self-esteem and,
- builds social connections and support systems as you meet new people with shared interests.
Volunteers and staff meet monthly for continued training and support. All ombuds receive a 36-hour certification training provided at no cost to the volunteer. All Ombuds are trained in infection control, issues in aging, mental health, dementia and disability. The certification training covers regulations, complaint investigation, interview protocols, cultural competency, advocacy, ombudsman ethics, and the rights of residents.
From 2019 to 2021, as a result of the pandemic lock-down, blocking volunteers from entering long term care homes, consultations with residents and their family members plummeted from 41,000 to 13,000. Cases received and complaints filed were half the norm because residents did not have access to their ombuds advocates.
Now with protective measures in place, the Washington State LTC Ombudsman Program is seeking new members from across the state, with a goal to recruit 200 new volunteers by July 2022.
The need is urgent, and you can help.
Please visit the Washington State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program or call 1-800-562-6028 today to learn you can become a Certified Volunteer LTC Ombuds.
Help us spread the word about the urgent need for volunteers to help provide a lifeline to residents of long-term care homes by forwarding this article to your friends and family.
You can also connect with us on social media https://www.facebook.com/WAOmbudsman
Patricia Hunter, Washington State Long Term Care Ombuds
The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is operated by Multi-Service Center. Multi-Service Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency that offers people pathways out of poverty through support and resources in education, employment, housing, energy assistance, food, and clothing. More information can be found online at www.mschelps.org