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Volunteers needed for SNAP ombudsman program | Community Spirit

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Volunteers needed for SNAP ombudsman program
Volunteers needed for SNAP ombudsman program

SNAP is largely known for their services helping low-income individuals and families, but did you know they also offer a vital service for the elderly?

Lisa Petrie has been the regional Long Term Care Ombudsman for Eastern Washington since 1990, responsible for overseeing 284 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes across Spokane, Pend Oreille, Ferry, Stevens and Whitman counties.

“This population is so very vulnerable, and it's so hard for them to speak up for what they need. The ombudsman is that voice,” said Petrie. “The whole idea is to visit with residents and make sure that they have the quality of care and quality of life that they deserve. Residents have rights, and we make sure they know that.”

Petrie has 38 volunteers that all make weekly and monthly visits to facilities from Colville to Colfax, getting to know the staff and residents. From their official paperwork, the responsibilities of ombudsman include:

  • Advocate for your rights as a resident living in a long-term care facility.
  • Resolve concerns about your quality of life and the quality of care received.
  • Work with you, your family or friends, facility management and staff to meet your needs.
  • Negotiate with others on your behalf.
  • Provide education and training on how to self-advocate.
  • Monitor laws, regulations and policies which affect your life in a long-term care facility.
  • Provide education about long-term care facilities as well as other service options in the community.
  • Help you establish a resident or family council.

In 2013 the ombudsman program put in 5,434 volunteer hours to address 370 complaints – the most common being problems with care, violations of rights or difficulty with admissions, transfers and discharges.

But despite the thousands of hours and hundreds of issues addressed, a severe shortage of volunteers means barely one-third of facilities in the five county area have an ombudsman assigned. That's where you come in.

“I'm looking to fill a class this fall,” said Petrie. “We have a four-day training session in September and I would like to have 12 to 15 people in that class.”

The class teaches volunteers in advocacy, including negotiating and what to look for. Petrie says the ideal candidate has good communication and listening skills and can remain objective and non-judgmental.

“They need to have effective relationships with the staff and a trusting relationship with the residents so that the residents feel that they're being listened to, and they'll take what they're saying seriously,” said Petrie. But most importantly, she said, is a desire to help. “If they have the passion and the interest, then don't worry so much about the knowledge, because we'll give them that. We're very patient with bringing people along and helping them as far as what to look for and what to ask.”

Sharon Niblock has been a volunteer ombudsman since 2007 and says it gives her a purpose now that she's retired. Niblock has also seen first-hand just how important the ombudsman program can be.

“One of the reasons I'm an ombudsman now is because of my mother. We moved our mother here and put her in a retirement center. I was very naive,” Niblock said. “I just thought things were going to go swimmingly well and they didn't. So I contacted the ombudsman office and Linda Petrie came out and we did a lot together. I see it from a daughter's point of view now, where I got the help I needed from the ombudsman office.”

The September class has a registration deadline of September 4th to ensure time for a background check and preliminary interview. If you or someone you know are interested in becoming an ombudsman, you can contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program at (509) 456-7133.