If you are an avid reader of this blog and devour our content first thing Thursday morning I am going to let you in on a little secret. I wrote this post weeks ago sitting at my desk while I put the remaining touches on our annual Volunteer and Community Celebration. Instead of toiling at my desk, I am hanging out with a couple dozen of Ombudsman’s biggest supporters, cheer leaders and heroes as we celebrate all of our awesome accomplishments of the past 12 months and set our path forward over coffee and eggs. In my world, brunch is reason enough to celebrate, but this year we have more than the normal goings on to be thankful for. This year we are celebrating the tremendous, seemingly insurmountable, audacious accomplishment of my friend and coworker, Judith Guilfoyle. Judith has been a Certified Field Ombudsman for 25 years, the second longest in the entire State of California. I will give you a moment to digest that… Judith has served more than all other Field Ombudsman except for Benson Nadell in San Francisco.
Judith began her work as a resident advocate long before aging was a flashy issue or addressing the needs of seniors became important to legislators. She began her work when the common strategy to deal with residents of long-term care was to “drug ’em up and tie ‘em up”. No… really. ..it was common place for staff and family members to believe that the best strategy to handle someone experiencing dementia was to restrict their movements and treat them no better than caged animals. However, if you know my friend, Judith, at all, you know she would not stand for this. She honed her ombudsman senses to detect any deception, the slightest restraint, or any kind of abuse being perpetrated. More importantly than that, she taught others to do the same. She empowered volunteers, staff members, family, and above all, residents to stand up for what was right and create a new culture in long-term care.
I could try and tell you how many cases Judith has resolved or the large and impressive number of residents she has served, but the truth of the matter is, it does not do her work justice (also, our records don’t go back that far). I can only tell you that Judith’s legacy is about more than numbers, it is about creating a seismic shift in the way that we see aging and elder care in San Mateo County. It is about setting a standard for empowering volunteers and building bridges with licensing and law enforcement alike. It is about refusing to take no for an answer and when necessary getting emotionally involved. It is about seeing the world from the residents’ perspective and making sure that those around them do too.
Thankfully, Judith’s time with us is not over and she will continue to set new examples and reach new heights. But before we go a little bit higher I want to pause here, with all of you, and look back at the organization that Judith has helped to build. So, if you see her around San Mateo be sure to give her a high five or a gentle squeeze and tell her “thank you”because in the end that is what motivates Judith. It isn’t money or fame. For Judith, it is knowing that she made a difference in the lives of residents.