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Ombudsmen advocate on behalf of long-term care patients

King County Long-Term Care Ombudsmen were present during the ombudsman panel discussion held Feb. 26 at the Federal Way Community Center. - Aileen Charleston/The Mirror
King County Long-Term Care Ombudsmen were present during the ombudsman panel discussion held Feb. 26 at the Federal Way Community Center.
— image credit: Aileen Charleston/The Mirror

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

Before tragedy struck, Carol Whitlow traveled around the world and lived in different parts of Europe for extended time periods.

“I always thought my life was wonderful — until I lost my two legs,” she said, on the verge of tears.

Like other disabled senior citizens, Whitlow has endured harsh situations after losing both of her legs. Since her accident, she has been transferred from assisting living facilities to independent residences to different nursing homes.

However, Whitlow claims that without the unconditional support of her ombudsman, she would face even harsher situations.

“If you’re ever in a position where I am, you need to have an ombudsman on speed dial,” she told the people who attended King County’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman learning session Feb. 26 at the Federal Way Community Center.

An ombudsman is a person authorized, by King County code, to investigate complaints regarding administrative conduct by King County agencies, and to publish recommendations for change based on the results of investigations.

During last Tuesday’s learning session, a panel discussion covered the rights of elderly residents who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family homes or state-operated veteran homes.

People who live in long-term care facilities often experience a series of difficulties that affect their quality of life.

These difficulties can be aroused by misunderstandings with the facility’s staff members, problems with certain family members or just simple situations that become challenging when faced on their own.

These are the cases where the intervention of a certified long-term care ombudsman is advised.

Nonetheless, people who live in long-term care facilities remain unaware of their right to have an ombudsman that is able to advocate in their behalf.

Residents are often too fearful to complain about any discomfort to their facility’s staff members because they feel this can create more conflict in the long run.

“Some residents like myself feel that we could get in trouble if we complain because many of us have experienced situations where we complain to the ombudsman and then something happens, and the next thing you know, you’re being snubbed,” Carol Whitlow said.

Bob Hitchcock, Village Green Retirement advocate of the ombudsman Program, said that some people don’t complain to the general manager for fear of being kicked out.

Frequently, the ombudsman’s intervention can call attention to a resident’s problems that otherwise would have remained untold.

Most ombudsmen who get involved with elderly are drawn from personal experience with a friend or family member.

“For five years, I took care of a family member who had Alzheimer’s and got to know a lot of people, but when my family member passed away, I saw that I could be of help to someone else,” certified long-term care ombudsman Sue Peterson said.

Ombudsman volunteers are used to receiving emergency calls from family members who need immediate assistance with an elder adult. Most of the time, family members don’t now how to proceed in finding an adequate living facility for the person.

The ombudsman’s job then is to help families understand the best options for the family member and help them through this transition.

Volunteer ombudsmen provide a much-needed service in King County, where there are only about 60 volunteers to assist thousands of long-term care residents in the area.

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Learn more:

The King County Long Term Care Ombudsman Program needs volunteers in the Federal Way area to help ensure proper care of local elderly residents. Volunteers commit to visiting an assigned facility for four hours a week. To learn more, e-mail maryf@solid-ground.org, call (206) 694-6703 or visit www.ltcop.org.

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