Volunteers Essential to Protecting Elders in Long Term Care

April 24, 2024 at 5:27 p.m.

An estimated 80,000 Washingtonians live in licensed long-term care facilities across the state. Many of these long-term care residents do not receive regular visits from family or friends, or don’t know where to turn for help solving the challenges they face. They may even experience neglect and abuse.

The Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an independent organization that advocates for the rights of residents living in long term care homes. 

Ombuds is a Swedish word meaning “to advocate for another.”

Patricia Hunter, who is with the Washington State Long Term Care Ombuds program, explained, “We could not do what we do without volunteers. Long Term Care Ombuds are trained to advocate for the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Ombuds serve as a voice for people who may not feel they have one, or fear that if they complain they may be subject to retaliation.” 

Patricia Hunter is with the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program


Trained volunteers are the eyes and ears, assessing how residents are doing, providing critical support to ensure quality of care and the rights of residents are being upheld. 

Volunteering keeps you moving and thinking, providing important physical and mental health benefits including: reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, providing a sense of purpose, increasing life satisfaction and self-esteem, and building social connections and support systems as you meet new people with shared interests.

Training for long term care Ombuds is provided at no cost. Volunteers and staff meet monthly for continued training and support, and travel mileage is reimbursed.

Below, read about the experiences of Washington state volunteers who serve with the Ombudsman program:

Marilyn Harrelson, a retired teacher in Federal Way, shared“Residents are so grateful to have someone to talk to. Some folks have very supportive families, but others are very much on their own. It’s very satisfying to know you’re helping people make their living situation better, opening lines of communication and helping residents understand they still have their rights. Sometimes all it takes to be helpful is being a good listener, other times, we need to be creative problem solvers and mediators.”

Mike Ellis of Snohomish County said: “When I walk into one of my communities, I feel a lift of joy. A lot of it is the reaction you get from the residents, they are happy to see you. A lot of times you’ll make their day, and in turn, they’ll make your day. I’ve gotten much more out of my volunteer experience than I've given.”

Anthony Suk who began volunteering as an Ombuds after retiring from Boeing shared: "Adults in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are truly remarkable people, having lived rich and fulfilling lives. It’s important to me to provide any assistance I can to uphold their dignity and ensure they are cared for and treated with respect. When residents understand we are listening, paying attention to them and genuinely care about their rights, they begin to engage more fully. Whether they require assistance with a specific issue or simply wish to share their stories, knowing that we stand on their side empowers them to live their lives to the fullest extent possible."

Ted Metz of Blaine said about his experiences: “I joined the program after experiencing the distress of seeing how my mother was treated when she was in a nursing home. Being a long term care Ombuds gives me a chance to help people who really need an advocate to make sure they get the care they deserve.”

Chris Arnberg, a volunteer Ombuds in Moses Lake shared: “As a business owner, the flexibility of this volunteer role appealed to me. If we’re lucky we will too be old someday, maybe we’ll be the ones living in a long-term care home. Once I got involved, I saw the huge need for advocates, especially for residents without family members nearby. We help them gain confidence that they can raise issues without retaliation. We are there to make it clear residents have rights - they should be able to live their lives as they want to, as long as they are not endangering others. If you have a heart for service, this is a good fit.”

Bonnie Gow, a Spokane area volunteer shared: “When we had to move my mom into a home because of dementia, I didn’t know about the ombudsman program. We visited every day just to make sure she got good care. After I retired, I wanted to give back and help others, and I knew how important it is to the wellbeing of long term care residents that they have an advocate. It’s so rewarding to be able to make their lives better, to see their faces light up. I helped one resident who was the victim of financial exploitation. Another woman who was dying asked for help reconnecting with her kids. Being an ombuds really gives you a sense of purpose and passion. I‘m busier now than when I was working!”

Learn more by visiting www.waombudsman.org or calling 1-800-562-6028.

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