Someone you know could likely use your help

Imagine your family is far away. Strangers bathe and dress you, but you’ve had a stroke, so it is hard to explain that your roommate is stealing your things. You’re a senior in a long term care home. You need someone to speak for you. You need an ombudsman.

The best kind of ombudsman is the one who lives nearby and visits your home often. The ombudsman will get to know you and take the time to listen to your concerns. She or he can step in, with your permission, and work out solutions that meet your needs. The law protects you from retaliation if you make a complaint to the ombudsman, so you don’t have to be afraid to ask for help.

In many parts of the nation, Ombudsman programs have enough certified volunteers to visit all the local long term care facilities frequently. That’s not the case in Alaska. For one thing, our residents live in 17 nursing homes and over 600 assisted living homes spread out from Ketchikan to Barrow. The Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman program has 6 staff and about 20 volunteers to make unannounced visits to all these facilities, an impossible task. In addition to unannounced visits, staff ombudsmen must open an average of 58 cases a month for investigation.

It’s hard for me to say it, but yes, Alaska seniors in long term care homes are really underserved by ombudsmen. We work very hard, but there just aren’t enough ombudsmen to visit all the homes on a regular basis, especially the ones in places like Kotzebue, Petersburg and Kodiak.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday this year. But as you enjoy your pumpkin pie and think about all the blessings of your life, I hope you will also think about the older Alaskans who have lost their independence and now live in long term care homes. They, like you, invested time and work in our state. They dry cleaned your clothes, fixed your car, taught your daughter math or caught the salmon your family ate. They are your neighbors and they still have needs, but they may not have family close by to make sure those needs are met.

Here’s what our ombudsmen do.

Rachel helped a senior who was panicked over a bill she received from the home stating her account was overspent by three dollars. Rachel talked to the staff who realized the bill should have gone to the woman’s guardian. Problem solved and one very relieved senior.

Doris called us to report that a resident looked really drugged. We made sure he got in to see the doctor who changed the prescription, restoring the resident to his usual self.

Erin took a home to task for leaving rotting fruit sitting out, for failing to refrigerate the eggs and for storing toxic cleaning supplies next to food. The staff fixed the problems while she was there and Erin will drop in again to make sure they stay fixed.

Volunteer ombudsmen have a big heart for seniors and a sense of justice. We train and supervise them. Most of them find it very satisfying work.

Will you be an ombudsman? Do you know someone who would be a great ombudsman? Help us build up our volunteer corps any way you can. Someday, it may be you who needs an ombudsman’s help. We want to make sure you get that help.

Visit our website at or call Deputy Ombudsman Kim Stoltz at 907-334-2359.

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