Posted by Jon Federman

OmbudsmanYou're in a nursing home. Your roommate has family members visiting at all hours of the day, laughing, shouting, and watching the television at a deafening volume. What do you do?

Your wristwatch has gone missing, possibly stolen, and you can't see the clock in your room. What can you do?

If only you had someone on your side to listen to your concerns, protect your rights, and advocate for you to solve your problems within the nursing home. The JF&CS Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is that resource.

Ombudsman is a Swedish word from medieval times meaning "a representative of the people." Today's long-term care ombudsman visits nursing home residents on a weekly basis and works to resolve their problems. JF&CS, under contract with Springwell, the west suburban Aging Service Access Point, has administered the Ombudsman program since 1983 as part of a network of federally mandated and funded ombudsman programs. A corps of 22 trained JF&CS volunteers visits residents in 30 nursing homes weekly. The service is entirely free for the residents and some of the volunteers have been with the program for more than 20 years. Federal law guarantees the right of access for each local ombudsman to visit consenting residents in every facility, every day of the year.

Marian Comenetz has been a volunteer ombudsman for about three and a half years. "The problems are as broad and as deep as human problems can be, from the mundane to the quite serious," she says. A former high school language teacher, she was looking for a volunteer opportunity after she retired from teaching. Her own experience with an elderly mother who was in the dementia unit of a nursing home gave her quite a bit of familiarity with the workings of nursing homes prior to volunteering.

"We deal with everything – from allegations of missing medications to room temperature issues; from aides treating residents rudely to food problems. We get repairs done, replace missing TV remotes, fix wheelchairs, help with religious needs, hearing aids, eyeglasses, and podiatry," explains Marian. "It might be something as basic as getting a resident's fingernails trimmed to something major like getting medications to a resident in a timely manner."

One resident complained to Marian that there was a woman down the hall whose screaming kept her awake all night. The night nurse, who was responsible for 40 residents on that floor, spent so much time with the screaming woman that she had no time left for the other residents. Marian voiced the concern to administrators, who explained that there was an on-site night supervisor for residents to contact, and advised that the nursing director could be called at any hour. When Marian returned to let the woman know about the protocol, she was extremely grateful. "It meant a lot to her that someone listened and then came back to explain it all. It was very gratifying to hear this," Marian added.

"We try to be the eyes and ears of the nursing home. We watch out for those who cannot express themselves. We report on and try to solve anything that affects the well-being of the residents," explains Marian. "I give credit to those who make things happen and I am amazed at how the administrators respond to me and their willingness to stop and listen," she adds. "It is our goal to minimize problems before they escalate."

Jon FedermanJon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.