Upon taking the position as Ombudsman Services of San Mateo County’s first Director of Development, I was faced with the need to understand the impact that the program is making on the lives of residents in long-term care facilities, on the aging process, and on the community. I was also made aware that I needed to be able to convey the stories, issues, and complaints to potential funders and donors. However, the field ombudsmen who were in the trenches would not be able to provide me with the details necessary to portray what was really going on, because of the confidentiality policies that they were bound by.
While I was told that it would not be necessary to become certified as an ombudsman to perform my job tasks, I believed that by becoming certified, I would be a better conduit to the community of the lessons and impact of our vital work.
I am now part of our latest ombudsman training class. We are a class of five, meeting twice a week for both classroom learning and field observations. The class includes a retired lawyer, a senior advocate, a former facility administrator, and a retired adult educator. We have thus far learned about the importance of using all of our senses to observe what is happening in the facilities, the process of recognizing issues and complaints, investigation, and resolution. My mind continuously ponders what I would expect in terms of my rights and how I would want and expect to be treated should I need to be in a care facility. I would think that all of us would value freedom of choice and dignity and work to make sure that all are given an opportunity to live out their remaining life in as active a manner as possible. I also think about the difficult job that caregivers have in catering to the needs of residents and the concerns of family members. The major transformation that needs to take place in the training process and through experience is to change from the desire to be collaborative (finding a win/win situation for everyone involved) to establishing the good relationships necessary to being an effective advocate for resident’s rights, pushing the resident’s wishes, values and opinions above what may be in the interests of the facilities, as they care for multiple residents.
I am in awe of the volunteers who are able to serve as field ombudsmen. The amount of time, skill, and personal strength needed to take on this role are significant and beyond what may be required to serve as volunteer in most other non-profit client serving organization. While I will not be serving in a field ombudsmen role, I believe by the time I complete the process, I will have a better understanding of the needs of residents. I will be able to use the conflict resolution skills I gain in every part of my professional and personal life. I anticipate that should the time come for me or a family member to need to live in a residential facility, I will be in a strong position to understand our rights. I will be able to empathize and better support the wonderful volunteers who choose to work as an ombudsmen in our community.
It is ultimately my goal to use the skills I learn as an ombudsman to help gather the impact stories from our volunteers and staff, and communicate them to the community so that we will be able to attract the volunteer and financial support necessary to help bring about real life enhancing benefits for our growing elder population that deserve to enjoy a productive, active, and/or dignified life.