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Tallahassee Democrat


Sunday, June 8, 2008
In My View - E. Douglas Beach

Volunteers Help Seniors Live Better

Volunteering is one of the best ways seniors can remain active in their communities and perform much-needed services at the same time. The quality of life for many older Floridians has been enhanced by the Department of Elder Affairs' volunteer initiatives, including the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program and SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders).

Although ombudsman programs exist in every state, Florida's is among the largest and most active. There are 17 ombudsman councils throughout the state, each made up of volunteers who defend long-term care residents and help them understand their rights.

Last year alone, Florida's ombudsmen worked 96,000 hours, investigated more than 7,600 complaints and worked on behalf of 55,000 elders to improve the quality of their lives.Based on one estimate, the ombudsmen contributed $1,872,960 at the national average rate of $19.51 for the value of volunteer services.

Elder Affairs applauds the ombudsmen volunteers and invites you to get with the program. Statewide, there are nearly 160,000 long-term care residents in more than 3,500 facilities. More volunteers are needed in every district. Many volunteers are elders themselves, and they dedicate tremendous energy to their advocacy duties. Visit http://ombudsman.myflorida.com or call toll-free (888) 831-0404 to apply.

Another remarkable program is SHINE, which serves the health insurance needs of elders in 11 districts throughout Florida. When seniors have questions about Medicare, supplemental policies, services covered by insurance and the quality of health care they are receiving, SHINE volunteers are available to help.

We currently have 449 SHINE volunteers statewide who provided 43,016 hours of service between April 2007 and March 2008.SHINE counselors receive training and support to serve Medicare beneficiaries. To become a SHINE volunteer or obtain SHINE services, call (800) 96ELDER (800-963-5337).

There are many opportunities for seniors to make valuable contributions to their communities. The good people who act as ombudsmen and SHINE volunteers experience the satisfaction that stems from helping those in need. We can only hope our army of volunteers continues to grow as rapidly as Florida's elderly population increases. Please join us.

E. DOUGLAS BEACH, Ph.D.
Secretary, Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Tallahassee