By Hilary Teply, MSW Intern
My name is Hilary Teply. I am a Masters in Social Work candidate at San Jose State University, and I have had the privilege of learning as an intern at Ombudsman Services of San Mateo County (OSSMC) since September 2015.
Looking back over my experiences with OSSMC motivated me to share some of these moments with readers. I have a new appreciation for how Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs have been supporting American communities and informing and protecting individuals who suddenly find themselves needing more care for themselves or a loved one. My experiences in the OSSMC office have shown me that Long Term Care Ombudsman programs throughout the United States represent a small but mighty protective force within dependent adult communities.
Several things have made this a rich learning experience. I have had the privilege of working with a unified, dedicated staff of extremely high caliber. For several years, San Mateo County has benefited from the presence of Ombudsmen who have years of experience. I have personally felt the effects of this expertise, and it has enriched my own educational process. Everyone I have worked with has been incredibly helpful. Each person in the agency has generously shared their advice and experience with me. Not only have I had a wonderful level of support from my supervisor, but I have never felt alone because every staff member has made themselves available to me. I know their advice has informed many of my cases and consultations.
One of the ways that staff invests in new volunteers and interns is by providing comprehensive training for new Long Term Care Ombudsmen representatives. Presently the agency has about 40 volunteers, all of whom have been trained through the same intensive, 40 hour training which I attended. These volunteers have their own broad range of experience they bring to the work—many of them have worked in related fields professionally as doctors, advocates, social workers, or teachers, and all of them bring incredible caring and passion. This made the training a wonderful learning opportunity for me, as we all learned together and were able to share perspectives.
The staff’s diversity of expertise in working with dependent and vulnerable populations (ranging from abuse specialist to policy change to working with adults and families dealing with developmental disabilities) also makes it a wonderful opportunity for students who wish to learn more about any of several areas. Because the staff is close-knit and generous as well as knowledgeable, as an intern I have open invitations to partner with staff in their areas of specialty. I can advocate to learn more about OSSMC functions in policy change, funding, program planning, or specific populations served such as individuals placed in intensive rehabilitative care or adults living with developmental disabilities. Furthermore, the staff at OSSMC has been extremely open to new ideas and has been incredibly supportive in helping me explore new learning experiences or implement new initiatives within the agency.
Another reason that the OSSMC makes a great choice for a Social Work Intern is that this organization truly looks at a broad view of systems and how those impact the individual. OSSMC works with individuals and families, yes, but it also liaisons with social workers, case managers, medical professionals, county partners, and peace officers. It has been a great way for me to experience a comprehensive overview of systems impacting elder and dependent adults. OSSMC is also actively involved in promoting awareness within the community, educating systems responsible for resident care, and advocating for change both at the local and regional level of legislature. OSSMC accomplishes all this despite having a full-time, paid staff of nine individuals.
The final reason I am so grateful to have had this opportunity is that OSSMC has allowed me full access to all these arenas of advocacy. For the past several months, I have observed the OSSMC staff and volunteers extend incredible flexibility, dedication, and compassion to the facilities they serve. The reason they have been so wonderful to work with is that they showed the same generous, kind, and flexible spirit to me as an intern. OSSMC trains interns, fosters wonderful working relationships with interns, allows interns to explore and pursue areas of expertise within the wide range of advocacy work, and continues to support interns through all they wish to learn. My experience here is not finished and I look forward to partnering and growing more with this agency through the home stretch of my internship placement. Even if I were to spend five years here, however, I know I would not be able to exhaust all the wonderful learning opportunities and the incredible variety of experiences this internship provides learners in the field.