Robert Greene, 92, likes when Diana Allen comes to visit. Typically, he’ll offer her a spot to sit on his bed that’s positioned against a wall plastered with family photos and a calendar marking birthdays and field trips or he’ll point her to his recliner just at the foot of the bed in the space between two hospital curtains he calls home at Timber View Care Center in Albany.
Greene’s family visits all the time and he describes himself as a talker. The staff says he has no problem making friends but when he had concerns about his care, he wasn’t sure who to turn to. Then, he got a flyer in the mail from a friend.
It detailed the state’s long-term care ombudsman program that provides long-term care facilities and adult foster homes with volunteers who advocate on behalf of residents. So, he called the number and got his first visit from Allen.
She’s not assigned to Timber View. Her two assignments are in Benton County but a shortage of ombudsmen has her on call. According to Carole Sebens, a recruitment specialist for the office of long-term care, Linn County has two ombudsmen. Benton County has one and together, they’re assigned to five facilities between the two. However, there are more than a dozen facilities in the area.
“There are 26 facilities in Linn and Benton County. We would love to have all of those facilities assigned, so it would be great if we could get 10-12 more ombudsmen,” Sebens said.
Ombudsmen are volunteers who go through 48 hours of training spread over two or three weeks. The time commitment is typically four hours but those hours can be managed according to the volunteer’s schedule.
The state has six regions. Lincoln, Benton, Linn and Lane comprise one region served by volunteers and one deputy. All of them serve under Director Fred Steele.
“Systemic change is our goal,” he said in a press release asking for more volunteers. “We not only want to help the individual resident but all those who will be in care in the future.”
When Allen volunteered just over a year ago, she had one individual resident in mind: her mother.
“My mom was in a memory care facility and when I retired I thought I would volunteer and make sure their [residents’] rights were being respected,” she said. She carries a photo of her mother in the clipboard she brings to jot down notes from residents about their care concerns.
Ombudsmen can handle complaints from cold food all the way to abuse — though more serious complaints are forwarded on to the regional deputy and eventually, to the proper governmental agency at the state level to investigate.
It’s a needed service with residents not always aware of their rights. According to Sebens, residents who have engaged families often find the ombudsmen service much more quickly than those who don’t but in both instances, ombudsman can still offer help.
Allen said that in the facilities she’s assigned to, she makes an attempt to get to know the staff and residents’ families, making sure to draw a clear line. Knowing staff can make tracking down a solution to a complaint much easier but assuring families that, as an ombudsman, she doesn’t work for the facility, helps foster trust with residents.
“She knows how I feel about her,” Robert said, pointing to Allen during a mid-morning Friday visit. “She has taken care of a lot of things.”
The next ombudsman training is scheduled for May 14 through June 5. For more information, visit oltco.org.