Helping seniors is rewarding
by Richard Corriea
Last summer there was an advertisement in the Richmond Review seeking volunteers to become long-term care ombudsmen (L.T.C.O.). In response, I called on Benson Nadell at the San Francisco L.T.C.O. program office, which started me on a poignant educational and experiential odyssey of a magnitude that I hadn’t anticipated, and to one of the most personally rewarding endeavors of my adult life.
So, what exactly is an L.T.C.O.? They are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. They endeavor to improve the quality of life and quality of care of people living in these facilities.
Ombudsmen investigate and resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in long-term care facilities. And they encourage resident empowerment and self-advocacy through informing residents of their rights and options for long term care.
Issues that ombudsman confront include quality of care, financial, emotional and physical neglect and abuse of residents. But in a less technical sense, ombudsmen help people.
During my ombudsman application interview, I pointed out to L.T.C.O. program recruiter Julie Schneider that during my time with the SF Police Department, I often worked with victims who were especially vulnerable due to their age or some other attribute that correlated with them needing increased protection. Moreover, as the former captain of the Richmond Police Station, I was all too often disheartened by the reports of fraud and theft perpetrated against the elderly.
Such haunting cases as I had seen over the years have never reconciled with my sense of humanity. I recall in February of 2011, in a health care facility on the peninsula, someone stole a 1942 World Series ring off the finger of the winner of that ring, a sleeping 90-year-old patient.
With my background and experience I thought I’d be a good fit for the ombudsman program. In the past year, I have come to believe that any empathetic person who enjoys helping people would make a fine ombudsman.
My experiences as an ombudsman have been interesting, delightful, rewarding and, sometimes, troubling. However, there are no words that convey the great honor and pleasure it has been to help folks living in long term care facilities. Being an ombudsman fits with the notion that, “it is in giving that we receive.”
One of my fist encounters as an ombudsman involved a decorated WWII veteran during what turned out to be the last weeks of his life. He was content with his life and satisfied with the care he was receiving. When I asked if I could assist him in any way he said it would be nice if he could have “two fingers of scotch whisky.”
Other folks sought guidance with the handling of their financial concerns or eviction threats, while others needed help with the activities of daily living.
I have learned a great deal about provisions in our culture for elder care and have discerned common patterns about how folks arrive in long-term care. Often a fall or lingering illness results in a stay in an acute care hospital and upon release a person is not well enough to return home to independent living. This can result in a brief stay in a skilled nursing facility, and after that it’s often a hurried, and sometimes unsettling, transition to long-term care.
Experience informs me that older folks can alter this pattern. Specifically, getting a bit of in-home help while still living independently can reduce the risk of illness or injury, and thus avoid a trip to the hospital. The key is to add support in a timely manner as it’s needed.
The safety net for seniors is much more limited than I ever thought. It’s mostly the very wealthy and very poor who have options; long-term care insurance can give folks more options.
Old is not sick; it just means that someone may need a bit of help from time to time. Without advanced planning, or an incremental approach to in-home assistance, a person can move very quickly from independence to an institutional setting that they might find unsatisfactory. The resulting loss of autonomy and control over the events in their lives can be devastating to some.
Finally, it is so important for a person’s health and longevity to have network of social contacts, and within this network to have one or more folks who can be called upon to help with both the urgent and the mundane puzzles that life presents.
I feel blessed to have happened onto the ombudsman program. I encourage you to consider becoming a volunteer long-term care ombudsman and share in the many wonderful experiences that being an ombudsman offers.
For more information, contact Julie Schneider at (415) 751-9788 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Richard Corriea is a retired commander in the SF Police Department and a former president of the Planning Association for the Richmond.