By Janet Begley
Posted April 9, 2012 at 7:38 p.m.
VERO BEACH — Several times each week, Janice Johnson of Palm City visits patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. She checks out their care, their food and even what their activities are to make sure they're receiving proper care.
Johnson, 62, is one of 400 long-term care ombudsman who volunteer for the Florida's Department of Elder Affairs. And Monday, the department's Treasure Coast Council honored Johnson as "Ombudsman of the Year" for Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties during its monthly meeting.
As a volunteer with the Treasure Coast Council for 10 years, Johnson advocates on behalf of patients in nursing homes, adult family care and assisted living facilities.
"I visit patients to do an assessment of their care," said Johnson, who did similar work in Arizona before moving to Palm City 11 years ago. "I was one of the original people who helped start the Treasure Coast Council, and I also help out with training new volunteers."
Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program was founded in 1975 as a result of the federal Older Americans Act, which grants a special set of residents' rights to individuals who live in long-term care facilities.
Volunteer ombudsmen seek to ensure the health, safety, welfare and rights of these residents throughout Florida, according to the Ombudsman program website. There are 18 councils throughout Florida.
Treasure Coast District Manager Kevin McKeown said Johnson is a valuable resource to her fellow Treasure Coast Council members.
"Janice is always willing to go above and beyond expectations to serve the needs of residents," McKeown said. "She assists her fellow ombudsmen by being a mentor for new volunteers and assisting them on their first-case investigations and complaints. Janice makes the Treasure Coast Council knowledgeable, motivated and dedicated to their service for long-term care residents."
Advocates such as Johnson spend hundreds of hours working to make sure the voices of elderly residents are heard. They conduct annual inspections, meet with residents to resolve issues and provide training to consumers and faculty staff. For more information about the program, local council meetings or becoming a volunteer, call toll-free 888-831-0404 or visit ombudsman.myflorida.com online.