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Advocating for the Elderly
April 22, 2013
Advocating for the Elderly

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2013

Ombudsman

At some point, you may find yourself or a loved one in a nursing home, recuperating from surgery or an illness. What if you aren’t getting the proper diet, your roommate is annoying you, or, more seriously, you feel you’re being harmed? You can call on your JF&CS Long-Term Care Ombudsman for help. These highly trained volunteers protect and advocate for nursing home residents on issues ranging from lost laundry, roommate disputes, nutrition, and medication to safety and even legal and financial concerns.

“The program is needed because many people in nursing homes don’t have families to advocate for them. They are often alone,” said Dan Goldberg, Director of the JF&CS Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. “With trained volunteers, we can advocate for things they may need.”

Martha Litle, of Wellesley, and Judy Isaac, of Waltham, are among 22 Ombudsman volunteers who visit 27 nursing and rest homes in Greater Boston. Each has been involved with the program for more than 20 years. The JF&CS program is part of a network of ombudsman programs in Massachusetts that is federally mandated and funded by the Older Americans Act.

Martha began her career in special education and early intervention with young children. “I moved from working with the youngest preemies to those at the end of life. When my mother was receiving long-term care, I noticed a significant gap in care coordination for the elderly and saw a need for improvement,” she said. “Every stage of life needs to be supported.”

She was hired as the Assistant Director of the Ombudsman program and, after she retired, stayed on as a volunteer. She now visits a day or two per week and appreciates work that she enjoys and can do on a flexible schedule. “I like the idea of a job where you can be proactive and identify problems when they’re easy to change before they get more serious. That’s very satisfying,” Martha said.

Judy is a former teacher who now works as a tutor to high school students and finds her time as an Ombudsman very rewarding. “I wanted to help people who didn’t have a voice to develop skills that I didn’t have before,” Judy said. “I’ve always had an affinity for older people. Many of them have very interesting life stories. I like the challenge of communicating with the Alzheimer’s patients. You have to enter their world.”

The job has two sides – advocate and ally – both of which require sensitivity and the ability to resolve conflicts. But on most days, it’s simply a chance to make new friends. “You’re touching the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t have meaningful communication with anyone. I always tell residents that they can speak to me if they have a problem, or they can just say hi!” said Judy. “It’s mostly friendly visits. If that’s all we did, it would still be worthwhile,” agreed Martha.

JF&CS ombudsmen offer tireless support to nursing home residents who need a friend or advocate. Their work is behind the scenes and not very visible, but the value they provide is immeasurable.

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2013.
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