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County’s Ombudsman program needs volunteers

June 27, 2013

When any of the 180 residents of Sterling Heights (above), Bishop Care Center and Southern Inyo Hospital Skilled Nursing Facility require advocacy, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is there to serve them, said Program Coordinator Keri Oney of the Eastern Sierra Area Agency on Aging division of Inyo County Health and Human Services. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

As Inyo County Health and Human Services takes over the Eastern Sierra’s ombudsman program, it is sending out an all-call. Wanted: volunteers who are interested in the welfare of elderly Eastern Sierra residents. Flexible hours and locations. Training will be provided.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, part of HHS’ Eastern Sierra Area Agency on Aging division since April 1, is preparing to launch a multi-phase volunteer recruitment campaign in Owens Valley. Currently, Ombudsman is operating with one administrator and one part-time volunteer.
When the Inyo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Nov. 6, to move the Ombudsman program administration from OASIM to ESAAA, two OASIM volunteers retired and the third found full-time employment but also joined ESAAA as a part-time ombudsman volunteer. Since Ombudsman still provides advocacy services to the 180 residents of Bishop Care Center and Sterling Heights in Bishop and Southern Inyo Hospital Skilled Nursing Facility in Lone Pine, more volunteers are needed, said ESAAA Ombudsman Program Coordinator Keri Oney, who became a certified ombudsman on June 19.
Oney, with several years experience as an Eastern Sierra Child Support case manager and social-services-related volunteer and volunteer coordinator, “brings good energy and strength to the program. One of her goals is to recruit and
train volunteers to support our senior population,” said Inyo County Social Services Director Marilyn Mann, who served as interim Ombudsman Program coordinator from April 1 through July 19.
Ombudsman needs volunteers in Bishop, Lone Pine, Independence and Tecopa locations. Ombudsman training consists of 36 classroom hours, 12-15 field work hours, a written test and Department of Justice and the FBI clearance, Oney explained.
Oney is planning active volunteer recruitment efforts during July in Lone Pine and during August in Bishop, “but I’ll take anyone at anytime,” she said. The campaign will include posters, radio spots, newspaper ads and outreach to civic clubs and faith-based groups, she explained. ESAAA also needs non-Ombudsman volunteers to man phones and drive for Meals on Wheels and so on.
“We are looking for volunteers that are interested in serving the aging community,” Mann said, thanking the former OASIM volunteers “for the services they provided. We want to find others who are as good a fit.”
What makes a good fit? People who are committed to ensuring that community elders “have their voice heard,” Mann said. “Seniors are in different places along the aging spectrum but they all need and deserve respect, to have their needs met. Our primary goal is to help our residents to age at home and in the community, safely, for as long as possible. That’s what most people want.”
When it becomes necessary, Ombudsman helps people transition to a long-term care facility or back to their homes, providing in-home services and more. “Enhancing our volunteer (numbers) will help the program maintain a level of presence that insures the highest level of care.” For information about volunteer opportunities, Oney can be reached at (760) 872-4128.
In the meantime, Ombudsman has been a “continuous presence” in all three facilities, Mann said. Although state regulations only require a once-quarterly visit, “our goal is to have visibility at least once a week.” Ombudsman’s one certified part-time volunteer has also helped “to keep the consistency” during the transition from OASIM to ESAAA. In that regard, Oney also thanked former OASIM Board Executive Director Kathryn Williams for generously providing training materials and helping ESAAA keep the OASIM phone number.
All in all, Mann said the transition of elder services from the four-person OASIM ombudsman team to the one-and-a-half-person ESAAA team “has gone well. We’ve been well-received.” Bishop Care Center Social Services Director Katie Hawkings said that Oney and Mann “take pride in their work and are very attentive to the residents’ needs.” Sterling Heights Business Office Manager Paul Thomson said the transition has gone very well; he has worked very closely with Oney and Mann.
Ombudsman is maintaining a high resolution-turn-over rate, as OASIM did, “responding within one to two days to requests for services, even the same day” unless the issue is complex, such as one concerning elders’ finances, Mann said.
The program also provides staff trainings on financial and other forms of elder abuse; how to recognize self-neglect or mental illness in elders; and more. “We ask facilities what training they need and we try to provide it,” Oney said.
ESAAA will continue to coordinate its Ombudsman and other social services programs with Public Administration/Public Guardian/Public Conservator Patricia Barton to ensure that Ombudsman meets its goal to “promote positive physical and mental health outcomes for seniors and their caregivers,” Mann said. To the table, “we also invite Pioneer Home Health, law enforcement, the District Attorney, Kern Regional Center which services developmentally disabled residents.”
Ombudsman “remains a valuable resource to residents and to the community. Families worry about their loved ones. Knowing there’s a program that will advocate for their mother, their grandmother or grandfather, gives them some peace of mind,” Mann said.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program can still be reached at (760) 872-4128 for information about the program, facility concerns and complaints, placement information, etc.

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