For more information on volunteering, questions about the program, or if you are in need of assistance of an ombudsman, contact the Kansas Long-term Care Ombudsman office by calling 877-662-8362 or contact Lori Myers at 620-728-0180. Or visit the website www.kansasombudsmanksgov.com to request an information packet.
When LaRea Cravens became a volunteer ombudsman at an assisted-living facility in Barton County, her daughter asked her what that entailed.
“An ombudsman is an advocate for the people in a nursing home,” the Great Bend woman said. She told her daughter, “It’s a mouth, or a voice.”
“Oh Mom, you can handle that,” the daughter replied.
An ombudsman is also a listener. Cravens spends about four hours a week at her assigned facility, getting to know the residents, learning their concerns and explaining what can be done.
That’s the definition of an ombudsman (pronounced OM-buds-mun) – a person who investigates complaints and helps to achieve equitable solutions. Certified volunteers are the heart of the Kansas Long Term Care Ombudsman program, said Regional Ombudsman Lori Myers in South Hutchinson.
Moving into a nursing home or an assisted living facility can create anxiety and challenges for both seniors and their families, Myers said. Many times they are unsure about who to turn to with questions or concerns.
Certified ombudsmen work as fact finders, educators, problem solvers and mediators. They have legislative authority to visit facilities and meet with the residents in confidence.
The typical time commitment is one to two hours a week. Cravens spends more time at her assigned facility, sometimes helping with birthday parties or other activities. “I enjoy talking to the people,” she said.
Weekly visits to the volunteer’s assigned nursing facility gives residents the opportunity to get to know their ombudsman and to develop a trusting relationship. The goal is to make sure residents in long-term care are getting the best possible care, Myers said.
“We would like to have at least one volunteer in every home,” Myers said. However, her 10-county area has only 21 active, certified ombudsmen for more than 70 long-term care facilities. These include skilled nursing homes, adult day care homes, home plus, assisted living and long-term care settings in hospitals.
Myers is inviting prospective volunteers to sign up now for training that will begin in late summer. “I’m looking for someone who has a heart for the elderly or those in nursing homes,” she said.
A prospective ombudsman receives 30 hours of initial certification training. This training includes 18 hours of classroom work, two on-site visits supervised by regional ombudsman, and a mini-internship. Upon completion of training and background checks, volunteers are certified by the State Ombudsman, Barbara Hickert, and assigned to a long-term care facility near them.
The training takes about six weeks. Myers said she will come to Great Bend and will try to work around the schedules of prospective volunteers. For more information, contact Myers by calling 620-728-0180, or visit the website www.kansasombudsmanksgov.com.
“The training isn’t bad,” said Cravens, who became an ombudsman 13 years ago. It gives the volunteer knowledge of the ins and outs of long-term care, including patients’ rights, regulations and what to look for in a nursing home.
Cravens encourages men and women to consider becoming ombudsmen.
“It’s been very rewarding,” she said. “The pay doesn’t always come (as cash) in your hand; it’s in your heart.