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Dear Abby: Have you heard of the Ombudsman Program?

DEAR ABBY: You often advise readers who have the time to reach out and volunteer. There's a little-known program in every state that was mandated by a 1978 amendment to the "Older Americans Act." It's the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. Its goal is to help assure that long-term care facility residents live harmoniously and with dignity, feeling free to voice complaints or concerns without reprisal.

There's a need nationwide for volunteers to make this program work. The ultimate goal is to have one volunteer in each nursing home. After training is completed, volunteers spend eight to 16 hours a month visiting their assigned nursing homes. They talk with the residents and observe conditions. If there's a complaint, they take it to their regional ombudsman for resolution.

Once residents get to know and trust you, they will share wonderful life stories. Some of them have no one to talk to, no visitors or family. A volunteer ombudsman is the voice for those who have none, and helps to make each community a better place to live for all its residents.

The nursing homes like to have volunteer ombudsmen visit their facilities because they want to provide the best care possible for their residents. -- JILL IN VAN BUREN, ARK.

DEAR JILL: Forgive me if this seems cynical, but some do and some don't -- which is exactly why it's so important that there are trained observers willing to regularly visit nursing home patients to ensure they are properly cared for. Readers, this is important work. If you are interested in volunteering, contact your local social services agency, Department of Aging or search online for the word "ombudsman" and the state in which you reside.

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