Volunteers are essential to protecting the rights & wellbeing of Washingtonians living in long term care homes

Long Term Care Ombudsman Program needs volunteers in Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties

Nearly 80,000 Washingtonians live in more than 4,300 licensed long-term care facilities across the state – most in community-based settings like adult family and assisted living homes, others in nursing homes and other enhanced services facilities.

Over the past four years, long-term care residents have experienced a twin pandemic of COVID infection and prolonged isolation. Even without a global pandemic, many long-term care residents do not receive regular visits from family or friends, or don’t know where to turn for help solving the challenges they face. They may even experience neglect and abuse.

The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an independent organization that advocates for the rights of residents living in long-term care homes. The program relies heavily on trained volunteers who visit, resolve complaints, and advocate for the rights of residents inside long-term care facilities. Ombuds is a Swedish word meaning “to advocate for another.”

“We simply could not do what we do without volunteers,” explained Patricia Hunter, Washington State Long-Term Care Ombuds. “Long Term Care Ombuds are trained to visit, resolve complaints, and advocate for the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Volunteer Ombuds assess how residents are doing, flag incidents of poor quality of care and violations of residents’ rights, and help residents resolve complaints. Ombuds serve as a voice for people who may not feel they have one, or fear that if they complain they may be subject to retaliation.”

Ted Metz of Blaine, has been a volunteer long-term care Ombuds for five years. Metz shared: “I joined the program after experiencing the distress of seeing how my mother was treated when she was in a nursing home. Being a long term care Ombuds gives me a chance to advocate for people who really need an advocate to make sure they get the care they deserve. It’s really a nice feeling when they get to know you, and it’s also important to ensure residents know we are here to help.

Research shows that volunteering has multiple health benefits, especially in older adults, including:

  • keeps you moving and thinking, providing physical and mental health benefits
  • reduces stress, anxiety and depression
  • provides a sense of purpose, increasing life satisfaction and self-esteem
  • builds social connections and support systems as you meet new people with shared interests

Long-term care Ombuds are trained in infection control, issues in aging, mental health, dementia and disability. The certification training, provided at no cost, covers regulations, complaint investigation, interview protocols, cultural competency, advocacy, ombudsman ethics and the rights of residents. Volunteers and staff meet monthly for continued training and support. Travel mileage is reimbursed.

In a typical year, trained volunteers donate more than 45,000 hours visiting residents, addressing complaints, including reports of abuse, neglect, and substandard care. They are the eyes and ears, assessing how residents are doing. Ombuds resolve over 90 percent of the complaints received, and reduce the need for costly government or legal interventions. They provide critical support to ensure the quality of care and the rights of residents are being upheld.

Common violations of resident rights and complaints that Ombuds address include:

  • Involuntary discharge/eviction
  • Lack of personal dignity and respect
  • Slow or no response to request for assistance
  • Issues with medications
  • Issues related to hygiene
  • Civil rights and billing issues

Community members interested in volunteering with the Long Term Care Ombudsman program can find out how by visiting www.waombudsman.org or calling 1-800-562-6028.

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