Ombudsman Volunteers: Peggy Kennedy (L) and Susan Burgess (R)

Could Being an Ombudsman be the Perfect Volunteer Job for You?

North Shore Elder Services is fortunate to have a number of committed volunteers providing countless services in several programs. April is Volunteer Appreciation Month and in keeping with this recognition, North Shore Elder Services honored their volunteers at an evening celebration Wednesday, April 26.

I caught up with two of our volunteers from our Ombudsman program; Susan Burgess and Peggy Kennedy. The Ombudsman program is currently in need of volunteers.  What better spokespeople to speak on the subject than those already doing the work?

Susan Burgess got involved with North Shore Elder Services’ Ombudsman program almost three years ago. “The program needed volunteers and I needed a connection with a group of people who had similar intent on doing worthwhile work in our communities.  It was a perfect volunteer opportunity for what I needed.”

Peggy Kennedy has been a volunteer in the Ombudsman program for sixteen years and has just retired in the past month from this role!

The volunteer ombudsman acts as an advocate to support residents living in a long-term care home. They serve as a link to the residents to speak on their behalf.  Peggy describes herself not just as an advocate, but as a “friendly visitor who is willing to listen and share some time with.”

Both women were impacted by their personal experiences with long-term care homes. Susan was impressed with and appreciative of the care her mother received in a nursing home.  She likes to think of her volunteerism simply as a way of life.  She describes it as “pay back and pay forward” in thanks of her mother’s care.

Peggy’s father spent over a year in a nursing home and Peggy oversaw his care. It was hers and her father’s primary care doctor who suggested she do Ombudsman work, recognizing her effective advocacy skills.

Both women describe how they walk the hallways, visit rooms, and drop in on activities, making contact with a greeting or touch. They try to find something to connect with while spending time with a resident.  By building a sense of trust, a resident will be more likely to confide concerns or problems to an Ombudsman.

Peggy and Susan both agree that the job is not easy. It takes a certain person to be able to spend time in a nursing home and it can be sad.  Susan says you can’t dwell on that.  “I like to think about the fact that there is someone who I will enjoy talking to today.  I focus on what I can learn about someone.”

Peggy emphasizes that you have to concentrate on the fact that you are doing what is best for the resident. “You leave your own ego aside.”  She says she has always liked older adults and enjoys talking to people in general.  That is key to her doing the work.

One of the rewards of the job is knowing that you can initiate changes and solve issues for someone.

One of the residents Peggy worked with was unhappy because a worker was aggressively adamant about her being put in bed at 6pm when she wanted to stay up until 9pm. With a little investigation and advocacy by Peggy, the resident’s wishes were honored.  “It was such a simple fix.  The resident still tells me that I helped her so much.  That’s the reward in the job – the gratitude a resident shows.”

Susan worked with a daughter of one of the residents who had declined where she was no longer appropriate for the floor she was living on. The nursing home felt it was better to transfer the woman to another floor.  The daughter was not accepting of the decision.

Susan worked with the daughter to help her better understand and accept the needs of her mother. Eventually the daughter trusted that the nursing home had her mother’s best interests in mind.  The end result was a happier mother living in a more appropriate environment and a trusting satisfied daughter.  Susan was an instrumental part of the team approach to working towards a good outcome.

If you have the skills to offer in this role, it would be a perfect volunteer match that you will find highly rewarding. You will be making a difference in the lives of our elders and helping North Shore Elder Services in their mission of striving for quality living as we age.  As both Peggy and Susan agreed, “Who knows where we ourselves will end up in our later years?  It could be me in the same situation.”  That motivates both our volunteers to “pay it forward.”

If the Ombudsman program is a volunteer opportunity you are interested in, check out our website at http://nselder.org/about-our-volunteers-2/ to learn more about the application process.  You can also see what other volunteer positions we are looking to fill.

North Shore Elder Services owes a big thank you to all their volunteers who contribute so much to our organization. We could not do without this devoted group.  Check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NorthShoreElderServices/  to see some photos from our Volunteer Celebration Evening.

Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

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