Long-term care ombudsman is both helper and advocate

No one wants to go to a nursing home to live. Sometimes, however, it is inevitable. Both older adults and families struggle mightily with this decision. So, one would hope that if you need to move into a long-term care setting, it should be trouble free, right?

The very fact that you need more help with care can complicate the feelings of satisfaction about where you live. There are inherent frustrations about living in a long-term care setting. Smaller spaces, scheduled meal times, different personnel to attend you, waiting for the help to come, adjusting to communal living and adjusting to dependency. The placement is needed, but the adjustment can be frustrating.

Imagine that you are a daughter who had to make the decision to move mom to a nursing home. You go to visit, and your mom tells you that the staff do not answer her call button in a timely manner. You speak with the nurse at the desk with hopes that it will get better. Several days pass, and you hear the same concerns from mom. Now you are mad and frustrated that no perceived change has taken place. Where do you go to get some help with this concern?

Enter the Washington state Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. This program provides advocacy for people who live in licensed long-term care facilities. Its mandate is to protect and promote the rights of residents and also to assist them in becoming self-advocates. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is structured to provide complete confidentiality for residents and families. The ombudsmen are not legally mandated to report neglect or abuse, and therefore residents and family members can talk with an ombudsman without worry that information is shared with others. This really helps when residents feel that if they complain, they might suffer poor care.

The ombudsman would work with families, residents and staff to resolve problems at the lowest level possible with the hopes of avoiding the involvement of other state entities. In order for this to work, the ombudsmen are not employees of the Department of Social and Health Services, but part of the state Community, Trade & Economic Development Department. The original funding and mandate actually came from a revision of the Older Americans Act in 1978. The program is then administered through a contract with 14 regional nonprofit organizations throughout the state. These nonprofit organizations train and certify volunteers who visit residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state. These include nursing homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities.

When you must depend on others for your basic care needs, you may not feel empowered to voice your concerns or complaints. Having an objective other to help you out is extremely comforting.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is seeking volunteers for training, especially for Mercer Island long-term care settings that do not have a regularly assigned volunteer. For more information, contact John Stilz at (206) 694-6747 or

Betsy Zuber can be reached at 275-7752, or

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