Senior Lifestyles —
The rights of nursing home
residents and a way to help

By SUSAN SMITH
Special to The Record

Mrs. Regis looked forward to daily phone calls connecting her to the world. Every morning at 9 she settled into her armchair for a chat with her childhood friend Anne. At 10:30, she and Cousin Jamie in Chicago checked in. Later, Mrs. Regis and a nearby neighbor debriefed. Other friends filled in gaps here and there.

But when Mrs. Regis had to move into a nursing home last spring, the only phone available for 20 residents was at the nurses’ station. She and friends tried to keep up with each other for a while, but conversation didn’t flow easily when Mrs. Regis was sitting in her wheelchair in a public place.

One day Mrs. Regis shared her frustration with a visiting ombudsman, who told her that under state and federal law she had the right to have calls without the concern of being overheard. The ombudsman contacted Mrs. Regis’ children and social worker, who taught her how to use her new phone.

Soon, life was back on track.

Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program sends a cadre of trained volunteers and certified ombudsmen to long-term care facilities in 15 counties in Kentucky, accounting for nearly 10,000 residents. They visit and advocate for residents, often informing them of their rights.

That’s especially important, according to Moira Brennan, who coordinates volunteers for the program, because many people think they lose rights when entering a long-term care facility. In reality, she said, federal law guarantees the right to self-determination — the right to make their own decisions about all aspects of care, lifestyle, activities and finances.

Ombudsmen monitor facilities and partner with residents to encourage and empower them. For more than 60 percent of Kentucky’s long-term care residents, ombudsmen are their only visitors. If you’re interested in being trained to befriend and advocate for residents, contact Moira Brennan at mbrennan@archlou.org.

Susan Smith is the communications and grants coordinator for Catholic Charities of Louisville.

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