This is an excellent time to train as a volunteer ombudsman — an advocate and friend to people in long-term care, said Amber Garrotte, the regional staffer for the Washington State Long-term Care Ombudsman Program for Jefferson, Clallam, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.
As coordinator of volunteer training across the territory, Garrotte emphasized the variety of jobs out there, from visiting residents to writing for a newsletter to developing new programs.
The people in nursing facilities, assisted living and adult family homes need advocates now more than ever, added Patricia Hunter, the program’s state director. With facilities in Washington exceedingly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, residents’ rights and quality of life depend on the people who speak up for them, she said.
Garrotte noted that, for the time being, online training is available to prepare new volunteers — so once visitation of long-term care residents is restored, those advocates will be ready.
To learn more about volunteering as a long-term care ombudsman in Clallam or Jefferson counties, contact Regional Ombudsman Amber Garrotte at 360-986-0657 or [email protected]
Claudia Murray of Sequim, a volunteer ombudsman for 23 years, knows what it means to step up for someone who’s in danger of losing his or her basic rights.
She worked with a man who suffers from severe Parkinson’s disease; he was behind on his rent at a long-term care facility. The staff was preparing to evict him, although he had yet to find anywhere else to go for the level of care he needed.
With her knowledge of state law and the long-term care residents’ bill of rights, Murray informed the man of the appeal process, and with that filed, she then helped him find and move into another place.
“That was my latest adventure,” she said.
This volunteer job has Murray learning constantly about regulations governing long-term care and about the people she meets.
Yet the current shutdown of visitation, which keeps residents stuck in their rooms, is hard.
“I start feeling sorry for myself, shut in my home,” added the volunteer, who turned 80 this summer.
“Then I think about the residents.”
Volunteers are typically assigned to one facility; Clallam and Jefferson counties have 25 of them. The five nursing homes, 13 assisted living facilities and seven adult family homes can accommodate 1,096 people, Hunter said.
Across Washington state, some 250 volunteers work with 17 full-time paid staffers in the regional offices. Together they serve 3,713 long-term facilities and homes with capacity for nearly 75,000 people.
In Clallam and Jefferson counties, meanwhile, just 21 volunteers work with Garrotte.
“It amazes me every time we get together: They do the most wonderful work,” she said of her team.
“Sometimes the residents have outlived their families and friends,” she added, so visiting volunteers are especially welcome — even if they simply stop by for a quick hello.
Hunter said the ombudsman program offices are seeking to diversify their volunteer base in terms of age, since many current ombudsmen are older and potentially vulnerable to illness es such as COVID-19.
She and Garrotte are also eager to use technology — such as tablet computers, Skype and smartphone videos — to connect volunteers to residents and their families.
For nine years now, Annie Haggenmiller of Chimacum has served as an ombudsman at two Sequim facilities.
She said Garrotte has been flexible about her other activities, including travel abroad, and added that meeting the other volunteers has been an extra benefit.
“They’re good people. I really enjoy them” at the monthly volunteer meetings, Haggenmiller said.
She also savors the friendships she’s built with her residents. She’s watched romances — complete with some drama — develop between the men and women.
One former building contractor from California began a relationship with his neighbor at a long-term care facility, and “they were so cute, sitting with their arms around each other.”
For months now, ombudsmen have visited no residents inside their facilities. When Hunter was asked when they might start in-person visits again, she could only say: “That is the giant question.”
Haggenmiller and Murray encourage potential volunteers to find out about the training, and they added that, besides advocating for residents’ legal rights, ombudsmen enjoy a look inside people’s life histories.
Murray, while volunteering at facilities in Forks, Port Angeles and Sequim, has gotten to know a few centenarians; “They’ve had fantastic lives,” she said.
“I don’t just work on problems. I like to visit,” Murray added, “and have a cup of tea.”
All she can do now is wait for the day when she can visit with her residents.
Asked whether she minds being called an ombudsman instead of an ombudswoman, Murray said:
“I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me.”