Long-Term Care Volunteer Ombudsmen Comments

Long-Term Care Volunteer Ombudsmen - Tell It Like It Is

So what is it like to be a Long-Term Care Volunteer Ombudsman in a long-term care facility?  What motivates someone to do this challenging job?  Here are some of our volunteers' responses to a questionnaire about their perspectives.

One volunteer summarized the "nuts and bolts" of his job as follows: "I try to be present at least three to four times a week so that I am a familiar part of the landscape and accepted by residents and staff as a help.  I listen, make suggestions, swap war stories, talk about my grandchildren.  I try to be persuasive to both the staff and residents, as appropriate in dealing with a given problem.  And then, I listen, listen, and listen."

What are the Challenges?

  • "Finding the right approach to each different person and trying to settle problems in a no-loser way."

  • "Sometimes it is very difficult to know the best way to handle a problem.  Sometimes it is hard to determine exactly what the 'truth' is...."

  • "I find it particularly challenging to get anywhere with the staff in making a change with the residents' requests."
Other volunteers cite the complexity of getting residents to feel comfortable about confiding in them or to speak up for their rights: "Some are afraid and some just feel it doesn't do any good."

Many volunteers agree that talking with a resident who "has given up on life" and "wants to die" is particularly challenging.  Others note the hardships in establishing communication with residents with severe dementia or those "who are bedridden and unable to speak."

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What Problems Particularly Bother You?

  • "Short-handedness of the staff."
  • "The amount of thievery that goes on."
  • "The lack of adequate communications:  between residents and staff; between residents and their next of kin; between the Residents' Council members and the rest of the residents."
  • "The seeming inability to do anything about some of the problems.  Staffing ratios are abominable--it's frustrating to see some of the needs of the residents going unmet.  Some staff attitudes are poor--but some of their situations are bad too."

What Personal Qualities and Skills Do You Use?

  • "I use my kind of sense of humor--realistic--that does not touch on a deprivation that comes with age."
  • "All the qualities necessary to show friendliness and yet not be intrusive, to be concerned, to return and report to them if they have requested help, to stress confidentiality and ...to be optimistic."
  • "My love of people and feeling for them.  'There but for the grace of God go I.'"
  • "I am able to have compassion for a resident's physical and mental condition without letting that be the overriding feeling."
  • "I have become reasonably adept at finding lost articles, comforting people, and helping residents to deal realistically with situations."
Many volunteer ombudsmen also said that caring, patience, and open-mindedness are qualities that they use in their work, as well as the skills of listening, interviewing, and negotiating.

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What Motivates You?

One of the most frequently-cited motivations for returning to their facilities each week is the volunteer's realization that he or she can make a positive difference in the residents' lives.

  • "It is knowing that many of the residents do not have relatives/advocates looking out for their best interests, and it is up to the ombudsmen to fill that gap.  And working with the fine professional staff at my nursing home is a pleasure."
  • "It is knowing that some expect me, that all are glad to see me, and that some may have problems that I can help solve--or about which I can at least commiserate with them."

  • "I enjoy making a resident happy by enabling the resident to solve his or her own problem."

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One of the most commonly-cited rewards of this work is:

  • "The smiles."
  • "They may not remember what your name is or what you do, but they seem to remember your face."
  • "Many people cannot believe we do this without pay, but a family member whose thanks are sincere or a resident whose face lights up when you come is very rewarding."
  • "I am motivated by the reception I get from the residents, their families and the staff.  The residents are so appreciative of the contact.  The families also are pleased to learn of the Ombudsman Program."

Have Any of Your Attitudes Changed?

  • "I've come to realize you can't eat the wallpaper!  Being now confronted with finding a retirement/nursing home for my mother-in-law, food and proper staffing is more of a priority than decor."

  • "Running a facility is very difficult: older folks at different levels of capacity with a variety of decided preferences are hard to please universally."
  • "No matter the amount of TLC, and there is a great deal of that, the facilities are managed with a great deal of respect for the bottom line."
A number of volunteers responded that they have found many more caring, dedicated, and sincere staff members in their facilities than they expected, and that their attitudes toward long-term care facilities have improved.

The Enthusiasm Comes Through!

When asked if they had any further comments, volunteers made the following responses:

  • "I get tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment from this role of volunteer ombudsman.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorite life experiences."
  • "It's great!  More people ought to try it.  It continues to astonish me that so many of the residents are so interested and concerned about me as a person.  They ask about my family, my health, my activities, etc."
  • "I wish more people thought about doing work like this--I don't think most people realize the tremendous personal satisfaction one gains and how much the residents of nursing homes appreciate their visitors."
  • "I have been involved in a lot of volunteer activities through the years.  None of them has meant as much to me as the Ombudsman Program.  I feel that I get back much more than I give.  I remember it being very difficult in the beginning for the first few weeks.  I felt a commitment--otherwise, I would have probably quit.  Now I would hate to give it up."

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