Volunteers sought to connect with those in long-term care

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Each month, Debbie Luce of Mountlake Terrace visits adult family homes. She spends one-on-one time with people who are elderly or disabled and can no longer can live on their on own.

“These residents are so very vulnerable,” she said. “I know there are a lot of lonely seniors out there who just need an advocate or a listener.”

Many have no family member or even a friend to check in on them, Luce said. “I find it very rewarding to offer a listening ear.”

Luce is one of about two dozen people who volunteer as long-term care ombudsmen, meeting with people in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes where about 4,000 people are cared for in Snohomish County.

Volunteers currently are able to regularly visit about half of these adults, said Robin Low, regional Long Term Care Ombudsman, part of the county’s Department of Human Services.

To help fill this gap, Low is now recruiting volunteers and hopes to at least a dozen people will sign up.

Volunteer ombudsmen play a critical role ensuring people are getting what they need and that their rights are being honored and upheld, she said.

Ombudsmen can help with a variety of issues, from someone not liking their food or not getting their medications on time, to not having access to a phone, not getting frequent enough showers, or even not getting along with a roommate, she said.

“Anything that goes on under the roof of a long-term care facility, with permission of the client, we can get involved with,” Low said.

The qualities she looks for in volunteer candidates are people who have good listening skills, who are curious, who are good at problem solving and who have the perseverance to work through problems.

The screening takes several weeks to complete, so anyone interested in the program is asked to sign up now.

New volunteers will participate in four days of training scheduled for Sept. 11, 12, 18 and 20 in Everett, which will include visits to adult family homes, a nursing home and an assisted living facility.

Once their training is completed, ombudsmen are asked to volunteer eight to 16 hours a month. In addition, volunteers meet once a month to discuss the issues they face and get additional training.

Luce, 60, began her volunteer ombudsman work about five years ago, after retiring from Pacific Northwest Bell, now known as CenturyLink.

Luce visits 21 adult family homes in nearby Mountlake Terrace neighborhoods, typically going to each site once every six to eight weeks. “If there’s an issue I’m working on, I check back more often,” she said.

“I tell them what you tell me is confidential. I’ll only talk to the owners with your permission.”

One person she recently helped was about to receive a 30-day notice to move out due to not making the necessary payments for her care.

Luce met with the owner and worked out a payment plan and also arranged for a designated payee, authorized to write out the monthly checks.

Most of the people Luce assists are seniors, but some are in their 40s or 50s with long-term illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy.

“I love hearing their life stories,” Luce said. “I feel like we can learn from each other. I find it a wonderful program.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

How to help

More information on the volunteer ombudsman program and an application packet is available by contacting July Andre 425-388-7404 or july.andre@snoco.org. This information also is available online at: http://tinyurl.com/kedr6s4

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