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Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Volunteers guard quality of lives

By CHELSEY LORA, Correspondent
Published: Sunday, July 26, 2009

Marilyn Dos Santos, center, talks with Heritage Health Care Center residents LidaBelle Wines, left, and Terrell Cook, right. Dos Santos is a volunteer with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. CORRESPONDENT PHOTOS/JENNA O'HORAN

Marilyn Dos Santos, center, talks with Heritage Health Care Center residents LidaBelle Wines, left, and Terrell Cook, right. Dos Santos is a volunteer with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. CORRESPONDENT PHOTOS/JENNA O'HORAN

Marilyn Dos Santos went to a local nursing home for her quarterly visit, armed with a smile and a fistful of business cards. She waved to the staff as she toured the facility and spoke to residents about their lives there.

"Are they treating you OK?" she asked each resident she encountered. "How's the food?" The residents smiled at her interest and conversed about their lives. After each chat, Dos Santos offered her card. "If you have any trouble here, you can call me anytime."

A retired teacher, Dos Santos pays close attention to the lifestyles of residents at the facilities she inspects as a volunteer with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

"Television does not count as an activity," she said before inspecting a calendar posted outside the nurse's station that outlined a series of pastimes available for residents. Two large posters describing residents' rights hung on either side of the station, courtesy of the ombudsman program.

One resident complained to Dos Santos that she was not receiving the rehabilitation time she needed. Dos Santos immediately notified the facility's director and told the resident that she would follow up to ensure the problem was resolved.

Seventeen ombudsman volunteers work throughout Southwest Florida in the program, which operates through the state's Department of Elder Affairs. Four volunteers service the 106 nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult family care homes in Sarasota County. They investigate hundreds of complaints a year, including eviction, medication administration, unattended symptoms and injury.

A former  nurse, Ann Proie, the district ombudsman manager, runs the program in Sarasota,  Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glade, Hendry and Lee counties. A former nurse, Ann Proie, the district ombudsman manager, runs the program in Sarasota, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glade, Hendry and Lee counties.

"We need at least eight or 10 additional volunteers to  address all of the concerns that we receive from residents on a daily basis," Proie said. "Many of our seniors do not have family members or friends that are available to speak on their behalf to assure that they are respected, honored and their quality of care meets the highest standard."

While trying to empower the residents to speak up for themselves, Proie's office also helps families assess facilities before a senior moves in, although the program cannot make specific recommendations.

Marilyn Dos Santos regularly inspects living facilities in the area.

 

People can, however, call the office and ask about certain facilities.

"Ask, 'Is that a thin file or a thick file?'" Dos Santos said. "And if it's a thin file, that means there hasn't been many complaints."

"We want to ensure that these seniors have the healthiest, happiest, most home-like situation that they can possibly have in their golden years because these are the years they worked for," Proie said.

Dos Santos and Proie described the rewards of working with seniors, not only in helping them, but also being educated by them.

Proie remembered a 97-year-old who heard Count Basie and Billie Holiday perform in New York, and working with nurses who served on the front line during wartime.

"You can get a lot out of books, but this is hands-on, personal history," Proie said.

This story appeared in print on page BS4.