For the past four years I have served on the Advisory Council for the Regional Long Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) serving Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. Most folks do not know what the LTCO is, which is truly unfortunate.

Under the Older Americans Act, every state is required to have a LTCO to address complaints and advocate for improvements in the long-term care system. The state LTC ombudsman coordinates the activities of the long-term care ombudsmen throughout Washington. For more information about the Washington LTCO, go to: www.waombudsman.org.

Our regional ombudsman is Judy Dawe. Due to budget reductions, Ms. Dawe is a part-time employee. Although the LTCO continues to shrink, the need for its existence remains painfully obvious. Notwithstanding her limited hours, Ms. Dawe is passionate about her work.

She empowers individuals, families and communities to scrutinize the safety and dignity of all long-term care residents. Her oversight covers assisted living facilities, nursing homes, adult family homes, which include elderly residents, as well as individuals with short-term or long-term disabilities requiring extended stays.

Ms. Dawe receives and responds to complaints and conducts independent investigations. Anyone can seek assistance from the LTCO. In addition to the resident, family members, community members and the facilities can request the LTCO’s assistance. Ms. Dawe’s role is to make sure the resident is being treated properly.

Example: A facility is concerned a family member is improperly refusing to allow a resident to return home so the family member can live in the resident’s home rent-free. Facilities can (and do) contact Ms. Dawe to help the resident navigate such a situation.

Example: A facility’s procedure is to awaken a wheelchair-bound resident at 6 a.m. to “queue” up in the hall and is wheeled to the dining area at 8 a.m. Prior to living at the facility, the resident enjoyed resting in bed watching television and eating breakfast at 9 a.m. The facility’s procedure described above is a violation of the resident’s legal rights.

One would like to believe these facilities have good intentions; however, anecdotally, many are now owned by for-profit national corporations that are more concerned about the bottom line. As a result, facilities are often under-staffed. Staff is over-worked and inadequately trained. Corners are cut.

Residents are neglected and/or abused.

Residents — often somewhat or severely compromised physically, mentally or both — are unable or fearful of advocating for their own protection. Long-term care residents have significant legal rights — of which residents, facilities, families, and the community are notably ignorant.

We, as community members, have an obligation to make sure residents in long-term care facilities are treated with kindness and respect. I was recently speaking with a colleague who goes into a facility regularly. He noticed issues of concern and knew about the LTCO; yet, at that time, it did not occur to him to report his concerns to Ms. Dawe.

We can all do better.

For instance: Every facility is required to have the LTCO contact information prominently posted. Don’t see it? Ask. See something troubling? Report it.

One ongoing and serious issue is the LTCO is in dire need of volunteers. This can be a rewarding opportunity. Retirees are ideal candidates, as are folks who are underemployed. If you qualify as a volunteer, you are reimbursed for mileage. You and Ms. Dawe work out what hours and facilities are best suited for your schedule and skill-set. Note: Being a volunteer LTCO requires a serious commitment! You must complete and pass the volunteer application process.

The volunteer training is required for all individuals who wish to be a certified volunteer Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Volunteers receive 32 hours of training, over four sessions or days, which includes on-site visits and homework. There is no cost to participate.

To report any concerns or if you are interested in volunteering, please contact:

Judy A. Dawe

Regional Long Term Care Ombudsman

800-828-4883 ext 120

360-500-4520

judyd@coastalcap.org

To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services:

For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program and school discipline issues), debt collection cases and tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.

For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

Sarah Glorian

Senior Attorney

Northwest Justice Project

Aberdeen

1-866-402-5293 (toll free)

www.nwjustice.org

www.washingtonlawhelp.org

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