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Looking out for seniors

Written by Sharon Kant-Rauch, Democrat staff writer

If a person living in a long-term care facility  makes a formal complaint, it’s often about 
food — it’s too hot or too cold, the portions  are small, there aren’t enough items on the 
menu.

But a resident might report something  more critical, such as being asked to leave the facility with little notice.

Whatever the problem, volunteers such as  Patty Born and Alan Tudor, with Florida’s 
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program,  are available to investigate.

“I get a lot of satisfaction helping somebody  who doesn’t have anybody looking out for  them,” said Born, who has been a Florida  long-term care ombudsman for three  years. “To me, seniors are the most  vulnerable people in our population, and I  want to help.”

Tudor, who recently won the Panhandle  Council’s “Ombudsman of the Year Award,”  agreed.

“Not every complaint works out,” said  Tudor, a retired state worker who spent  two years in the Peace Corps before  becoming an ombudsman. “But when you  actually resolve an issue to the satisfaction  of the resident, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Born, Tudor and 13 other ombudsman in  the Panhandle could use some help. The volunteers visit 83 facilities, and last year  investigated 426 complaints.

“There’s always a need for more  volunteers,” said Erica Wilson, public  relations manager for the ombudsman  program. “We look for people to stay with  us for the long term so that we can  maintain a presence in these facilities. The  residents see familiar faces and feel  comfortable with us because they know  us.”

Ombudsmen assess each facility at last  once a year, but Wilson said the agency  hopes to increase the number of visits,  perhaps to quarterly.

Volunteers investigate complaints, educate  families and residents about residents’  rights, help establish and support resident  councils, work to change laws and  regulations affecting residents and attend  monthly ombudsman council meetings.

To do all this, volunteers must get  certification, which is done in three parts —  online, in the classroom and in the field.  Volunteers must also pass a Level 2  background check. Once completed,  volunteers are asked to commit to 20  hours of ombudsman work a month.

“There’s a lot of training involved,” Born  said, “but it’s a very serious position.”

On a recent visit to an adult family care  home, Born walked into a bedroom, sat  down on the bed and began chatting with a  resident.

“How are you doing today?” she asked.  Although the resident said he had no  complaints, she pressed a little further. Did  he get enough to eat? Did he have access  to an emergency button? Where could he  make a telephone call?

The resident mentioned that he had  trouble getting transportation to an outside  activity recently, but had resolved it by  using Dial-a-Ride. Born let him know how  he could contact her in the future.

Several of the other residents couldn’t talk,  but Born checked in with them, observing  how they were dressed, how comfortable  they seemed, if they looked well fed. She  also made sure that the license was posted  and checked out the staff-to-resident  ratio, among other regulations.

Afterward, she said that most facilities and  advocates.

“We’re not unbiased,” Born said. “We’re on  the side of the resident.”

How to help

Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is seeking volunteers to advocate on behalf of people living in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult family care homes. Volunteers identify, investigate and resolve residents’ concerns. Training and certification are provided. For more information call toll-free, 1-888-831-0404 or visit http:/ ombudsman.myflorida.com.

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