As volunteer resident advocates, or "ombudsmen," Wheatfield residents Shirley Walk and Dottie Deer are there for area nursing home and assisted living residents.
After attending training through the Dale Association, where volunteers learn how to handle a variety of issues that might come up, Walk, Deer and other ombudsmen are assigned to a nursing facility.
Volunteers visit with residents up to four hours a week. While there, they observe the condition of the residents they serve. Ombudsmen act as the liaison between residents and the facility's administration. It's an important link in the chain for many residents.
According to Walk, "even in a nice facility like the one where I volunteer, I have some residents who are reluctant to ask for anything from the administration. Their generation just doesn't complain. It's my job to ask the questions, to get results."
Ombudsmen serve a variety of important roles in a facility. They help residents transition to their new environment - something that can be very challenging for people. Imagine being moved from your home and all the things that are familiar, to a place, and then being required to share a room with a complete stranger. "Adjusting to the new routine, meals, people, sights, smells and sounds isn't easy. Part of my job is to help people make that transition. I'm there to pave the way, so to speak, to listen and offer suggestions that will help new residents feel more comfortable. Sometimes it requires small changes on the part of the administration and staff - that's part of my job too - to communicate the things that will make life better for their residents," says Deer a retired nurse.
While Deer worked as a nurse in her career, a nursing degree is not required of ombudsman volunteers. Program Coordinator Nancy Smith looks for men and women (age 21 or older) who have good communications skills and a desire to help others. "While this is a tremendously important position, the volunteers tell me it's the most fulfilling activity they've done. They are a friendly visitor who actively listen and do their best to help. Our ombudsman volunteers set their own hours. I have some volunteers who still work, others who are newly retired and some who have been family caregivers," says Smith.
Ombudsman volunteers also attend resident council meetings where they listen to all the concerns voiced, and sometimes become the voice for residents who can't speak for themselves. Helping another person provides a deep sense of satisfaction to both parties.
"When you help someone that can't (or doesn't know how to) help themselves, it's the biggest reward of all," adds Walk. "Most of all, I am just happy to see the residents and they are always happy to see me, too."
Smith is currently recruiting volunteers for Niagara and Erie counties. Training is scheduled for early October. Interested parties are asked to call Nancy Smith at 716-433-3344, ext. 1.
Shown are volunteers and friends Shirley Walk, left, and Dottie Deer. As ombudsmen, they are advocates for area nursing home residents.