Volunteer Ombudsman Questions and Answers

 Questions & Answers about Being A Volunteer Ombudsman

Q: What does the word “ombudsman” mean?

A: “Ombudsman” comes from the Swedish word “ombud” which means representative or agent.

Q: What is a volunteer ombudsman?

A: An individual who has been trained by the Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program to promote the implementation of the Residents’ Bill of Rights in long-term care facilities (nursing homes and assisted living facilities). The volunteer monitors the quality of care provided; maintains contact with residents and counsels them regarding any complaints or concerns; and represents their interests to the facility staff. The volunteer is assigned to work at a specific facility and must be free from a direct conflict of interest* in performing his or her duties.

Q: Is a volunteer ombudsman the same as a “friendly visitor”?

A: No. A volunteer ombudsman is a friendly advocate who visits the long-term care facility to monitor conditions and actively represent the needs of the residents there.

Q: What does the volunteer ombudsman do during the weekly visits?

A: The volunteer visits one-on-one or in small groups with the residents, by going room to room or chatting in common areas. The intent is to build trusting relationships so that individuals will feel comfortable to raise their concerns. The volunteer becomes familiar with non-communicative residents, too. While the ombudsman will not initiate contact with residents’ families or friends, he or she may work with them as they meet during facility visits.

Q: How does the ombudsman handle complaints?

A: The ombudsman encourages residents to voice their concerns to the staff themselves, and offers support in that process. As needed, the ombudsman will take a complaint in writing to his or her contact person on the facility’s administrative staff. Then the ombudsman follows up with both parties to monitor the correction of the problem. The volunteer also brings his or her own observations of problems directly to the contact person. Volunteers submit complaint reports to the ombudsman program office and refer persistent problems to the office for further intervention.

Q: What types of complaints does the volunteer ombudsman handle?

A: A wide variety, such as poor food quality, unsanitary conditions, inadequate activities programming, care issues such as shortage of staff, hygiene and slow responses to call bells, roommate conflicts and violations of the Residents’ Bill of Rights.

Q: What skills does the volunteer ombudsman use?

A: Listening, observing, mediating, interviewing, motivating, and verbal and written communication skills.

Q: What qualities does it take to be an effective volunteer ombudsman?

A: objectivity, diplomacy, persistence, patience, assertiveness and an interest in helping people in an advocacy capacity. We have also found that empathy, compassion, a tolerance for ambiguity and conflict, and a sense of humor go a long way.

Q: How much time is involved?

A: Beyond the initial 3-day training and facility site visit with a current volunteer:

  1. Weekly facility visits: A volunteer ombudsman is asked to make a commitment of four hours a week for at least one year. The hours do not have to be consecutive. The volunteer can set his/her own schedule and it can vary from week to week, with the stipulation that visits occur primarily during business hours, between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Occasional evening and weekend visits are permitted. Allowances are made for vacations and sickness.
  2. In-services: Volunteer ombudsmen are required to attend at least4 of the 5 or 6 educational in-services throughout the volunteer year to qualify for annual Volunteer Ombudsman recertification. In-services are normally 2.5 hours long and are held on a weekday morning or afternoon.
  3. Activity reporting: Time to complete a monthly report for the Ombudsman office ranges from 30 to 60 minutes.

Q: Is there paperwork involved?

A: Yes. Volunteers need to keep personal notes about their contacts with residents and staff. These notes help them to complete the monthly report and complaint cases. Using e-mail or hard copies, the ombudsman submits a two-page report form each month as well as one-page complaint forms for all complaint cases handled during the month

Q: Is supervision provided?

A: Yes. A full-time Volunteer Specialist and the other ombudsman program staff have phone and email contact, and staff makes monitoring visits with volunteers individually. Volunteers provide peer support at the in-service meetings.

Q: How is a facility assignment chosen for a new volunteer?

A: A list of available long term care facilities is provided during training. New ombudsmen are asked to list their top three choices of available facilities and effort is made to assign them to one of those choices. A volunteer will not be assigned to a facility at which he/she has a relative in residence, has had a relative in residence during the previous two years or has or has had (in the past five years) a business relationship.

Q: How can I become a volunteer ombudsman?

A: The application process involves completing the following: an application; an in-person interview, three days of training, a facility visit with a current volunteer and final approval by the staff.

Q: What are the benefits of serving as a volunteer ombudsman?

A: A few of the rewards are bringing joy and comfort to sometimes forgotten, vulnerable individuals; ongoing professional training in the dynamic field of long term care; and helping to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. To quote our volunteers, “The elderly need advocates and we can’t let them down. Each time I visit, I seem to learn something about life and aging.” “A family member whose thanks are sincere or a resident whose face lights up when you come in, is very rewarding.”

Q: How many paid and volunteer staff is in the Ombudsman Program?

A: The Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program has 7.0 paid ombudsman positions responsible for serving the residents of one hundred and fifteen (100) facilities that are licensed to operate, with a total of 9,746 beds. Therefore, volunteers play a critical, central role in the program’s mission! In recent years the program has been fortunate to have approximately 55 active volunteers contributing to this effort.

Q: Where does the Ombudsman Program get its authority and funding?

A: The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program was created by federal law in 1978. The federal Older Americans Act requires every state to have an ombudsman. Virginia’s Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman is located in Richmond, and the work of ombudsmen in Virginia is authorized by state code. The Northern Virginia Ombudsman Program is a public service that began in 1985 and serves Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and the City of Alexandria. Funding comes from the state and federal levels, but primarily from the Area Agencies on Aging of these five jurisdictions.


If you have additional questions, the Volunteer Specialist at the Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program would welcome your call! Please phone 703-324-5422 or 324-5861.More information about our program is available on our website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/LTCOmbudsman.

Thank you for your interest!


*Direct conflicts of interest can include employment by or a business relationship with a long term care facility. If the applicant’s family members have these relationships, that may pose a conflict. An applicant whose family member has been in a specific local facility in the past two years will not be eligible for assignment to that facility. (Starting “fresh” at an “unknown” facility has proven to result in better working relationships by all involved.)


Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program 12011 Government Center Parkway, Suite 708, Fairfax, Virginia 22035-1104


Office 703-324-5861; TTY 711

Fax number 703-653-1796 

Email address: nvltcop@fairfaxcounty.gov

Web address:  www.fairfaxcounty.gov/LTCOmbudsman

Serving the City of Alexandria and the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun through their Area Agencies on Aging


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