Ombudsman program provides visitors to nursing home clients

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By Becky Barnes

About 60 percent of all nursing home residents do not have regular visitors.

However, thanks to a 25-year-old program, Harrison County’s 294 nursing facility residents have two familiar faces to talk to about issues with their care.

“We like to let them know that someone is coming in to see them,” said Betty Patrick, one of two Nursing Home Ombudsmen (NHO) in Harrison County.

Patrick serves the patients at Shady Lawn, Parkside Manor and Grand Haven, while her colleague Carol Ostrander serves Cedar Ridge and Edgemont.

Recently, while Ostrander was on leave, Patrick was visiting each nursing home resident in the county. She said she worked nearly four hours each day.

Julie McDermon, NHO district representative, said the goal is for the ombudsman to be the voice of the resident.

“We always want to work for the resident,” McDermon said. “We don’t work for the facility or the family... always the resident.”

Patrick and Ostrander first listen to their clients. Once a complaint is heard, they determine their course of action.

She said the complaints vary from issues like cold food or missing laundry to the more horrific cases like abuse. Those, she said, are not handled by the ombudsmen, but are passed on to their supervisors.

“The worse is when you have to have a confrontation over a big problem,” Patrick said. “I wish I could say we never [have to have] those, but we do.”

She recalled an instance a few years ago where an employee was tormenting a client by using the clicking sound  of a pen to mock a syringe. The patient was terrified of needles and the action was terrifying for the patient, Patrick said.

The employee was prosecuted and  sentenced to jail.

She said the best part is getting to meet so many people, who have lived interesting lives.

“These patients have rights,” Patrick said passionately. “This is a very unique program.”

The NHO began as part of the Older Americans Act of 1978, which mandated each state to have in place a voice for senior citizens.

The Blue Grass Area Development District’s Nursing Home Ombudsman program, which began in 1981, is the only one of its kind in the country. There is an advisory board to help out with matters beyond the ombudsmen’s jurisdiction as well as the administration.

Patrick and Ostrander must maintain their certification through training which occurs on rotating months.

Each county in the 17-county BGADD has an ombudsman program.