The Woodward News

July 18, 2013

Volunteers needed to be a voice for the elderly

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Do you know how many residents in nursing homes never get a visitor?  You may be surprised by the answer.

"The majority of people in these facilities have no one.  Around 60 percent never get a visitor," said Jerome Thomas, with the OEDA Area Agency on Aging.  "Nearly that many have no family and even some that do their family never comes to visit them.  They're spouses are gone, for many their children are gone as well, so they're pretty much alone."

That is why the OEDA Area Agency on Aging will soon be presenting a 2-day training seminar in Woodward to help educate new volunteers to become ombudsmen for seniors living in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The training is set for July 31 and Aug. 1, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, at the Woodward Senior Center.

Thomas is the supervisor of the OEDA Area Agency on Aging volunteer ombudsmen program.

He explained that a senior ombudsman is "someone who advocates for the rights and well-being of residents in nursing homes."

"It basically involves visiting residents, talking with them, asking if they're okay or if they have any problems.  Just being a friend," he said.

But while providing company for the nursing home residents is an important benefit of the ombudsmen program, Thomas said the main goal is "to make sure their rights are not being kept from them and that their needs are being met."

That's why ombudsmen are not just to be friends of the residents, but also "be their voice," he said.

Especially since "sometimes the residents don't think they can do anything about their situation.  They think they're in there and that's it," Thomas said.

Or sometimes they're just afraid to speak out.

"They may fear that if they complain about something it will just cause them trouble," Thomas said.  "That's why they need advocates; that's why we need ombudsmen."

When an ombudsman discovers that a resident does have a problem, he said it is the volunteer's job to "try to help them work it out with the administrator or the facility."

Essentially the ombudsmen will step in whenever a resident's rights are being violated, he said.

These rights include a right to privacy.  "They have the right to have the visitors they want to see and not see the visitors they don't want to.  They have a right not to have their mail opened and a right to privacy when they're receiving treatment," Thomas said.

The other rights that ombudsmen help protect include residents' "right to manage their money and see what they're being charged; a right to participate in their care plan; a right not to be abused either physically, emotionally or chemically."

Potential volunteers have the opportunity to learn more about these rights and how they can help protect them by becoming a volunteer ombudsman during the upcoming training on July 31 and Aug. 1.

Other topics to be discussed during the 2-day training include "learning how to communicate with residents so they understand what their rights are and problem-solving skills so they know the processes for how to solve what problems they discover," Thomas said.

The training will also discuss resident and family empowerment to "help residents and their families understand how to work within the system; it's about helping families understand how they can get things done that need to be done" he said.

Thomas said the ombudsmen program is a perfect opportunity for "just anyone who has a heart for the elderly."

Thomas said there aren't really any age restrictions or other requirements for the ombudsmen program, but volunteers are asked to commit to at least 2 hours of service each week.

To sign up for the upcoming ombudsmen training or to learn more about the program, contact Thomas at (580) 527-1007.  Volunteers are asked to register for the training by July 25.

Thomas said those considering becoming an ombudsmen should know "that they really are needed."

"We do need volunteers in Woodward.  There's 2 facilities there, Grace Living Center and Providence Place, and we don't have a volunteer for either," he said.  "There's also a facility in Mooreland and facilities in Vici, Seiling and Shattuck and we need people at those places as well."