Volunteers are being sought for the American Red Cross Ombudsman program:
QUALIFICATIONS: Must be at least age 21, with good communication skills. Must complete 36-hour training course and commit to four to six hours a week of volunteering.
TRAINING: Next program: April 11 and 25 and May 2, 9 and 16. Attendance required at all five sessions.
LOCATION: Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Washington counties need volunteers.
MORE INFO: Contact Edie Sennett-Jozwiak at 694-5114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A favorite sandwich. Sunshine coming through a window. Someone to sit and listen to.
Those might seem like small things, but any one of them can contribute to a better quality of life for a resident in a long-term care facility. Ensuring such items aren’t overlooked is the specialty of long-term care ombudsmen.
A certified long-term care ombudsman is a volunteer who works with residents of nursing homes and other adult care facilities to help them resolve complaints and concerns.
Instituted in 1972, the Ombudsman Program now operates in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, under the authorization of the Older Americans Act.
The American Red Cross of Northeastern New York is seeking ombudsman volunteers to serve at facilities in Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Washington counties.
“There are many people in the nursing home who really have no one, but guess what? They have us. They truly have an advocate and that’s what we stand for — someone who is there to listen to their concerns and help them with any quality of life issues,” explained Edie Sennett-Jozwiak, ombudsman director for the American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region.
Volunteers must be age 21 or older and have strong verbal and written communication skills. Thirty-six hours of training is required, and after that, a weekly commitment of between four and six hours is expected.
Volunteers talk to residents and let them know they are there to help.
“It’s a lot of schmoozing. It’s a lot of making your presence known; sitting down with people; attending activities where a lot of the residents are gathered so your face becomes familiar; interacting with people,” explained ombudsman volunteer Susan Philippo of Glenmont, a retired nursing supervisor who has been a part of the program for three years.
Most long-term care facilities have excellent social workers, she pointed out, but many residents can still benefit from the presence of a volunteer who will simply sit and listen or give extra assistance with navigating the health-care system.
Often, residents don’t want to trouble their social worker because they feel their problem is too small for staff to bother with, Philippo noted.
“The problem could be as simple as, ‘My roommate likes to have the drapes closed all day long, and I need sunshine,’ ” she explained. “They don’t want to complain about something like that, but it still bothers their quality of life. So those are the kinds of things we can get in there to help them work out and solve.”
Ombudsmen sometimes help resolve family conflicts, like differences in opinion between a resident and a family member about what type of care should be administered. In other instances, a resident might feel like nurses don’t respond quickly enough when a call button is pushed, or may be unhappy because a roommate keeps the television volume very loud.
Sennett-Jozwiak recalled a resident who longed for a certain type of sandwich that was not on the facility’s menu.
“I spoke with the facility about it, and once a week, that resident started getting that particular sandwich. That doesn’t seem very earth-shattering to you and I, but guess what? We made someone happy,” she said.
In a nutshell, that’s the goal of the ombudsman program.
“This is their home, and a lot of them will die there, and it’s important that they have a good end-of-life journey,” Philippo said. “And if we can help make that happen, in minor things, major things, that’s wonderful. It’s a great feeling, it really is.”