Share the Journey — Ombudsman program walks with families

I’ve always worked in positions that allow me to help other people, having jobs such as a nursing assistant, case manager and a community access manager. But when I became an ombudsman for Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, I really found my niche.

The funny thing about that is that I didn’t even know what “ombudsman” meant and had to look it up. Officially it means a person who investigates others’ complaints about mis-administration, and that’s what the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program does. We work to improve the lives of residents in long-term care facilities by investigating and resolving concerns we learn about from them, their families or the facility staff. We serve residents in 15 counties, at no cost to them.

And as important as that is, to me it means even more. It means getting to know individuals, hearing their stories, gleaning their wisdom, laughing at their stories and then doing everything I can to make their lives the best possible, not just because it is my job, but because they are my friends.

Sometimes that’s fairly simple. One day I was visiting with a resident who had no complaints but as we talked, she mentioned how she wanted to watch her soap operas every day but was always interrupted by activities staff inviting her to bingo. Like most people in her age group, she felt compelled to oblige and was missing her soaps. When I asked the staff to cut back on their invites, the resident was able to enjoy her afternoons again.

Sometimes it’s more involved and there is, frankly, more at stake. As you know, the pandemic has caused severe limits in visits to residents in long-term facilities. Most places now have technology in place for remote visits and allow visits through windows. This is especially difficult for residents with dementia, though, who don’t understand why their loved one is standing outside, yelling to them. Most now offer “compassionate visits” for special circumstances. Although most people think their loved one is experiencing special circumstances because they are lonely and depressed — and they are — these visits pretty much come at the end of one’s life.

Recently a resident’s daughter requested a compassionate visit with her mom but was denied. When I took on her concerns, I was told by staff that her mom was, indeed, weak and had barely eaten for the previous two days. I gave them my best rationale for reconsidering a compassionate visit, noting that the resident was already in palliative care and would not survive long without nourishment. The facility changed its decision and welcomed the daughter to visit her mom for three consecutive days that weekend. Her mom passed on that Monday.

I cry when I think of that. What an honor it is to walk this journey with these residents, my friends. I’m conducting virtual visits currently, and continue to work remotely, checking in on phones and Facetime. I can’t wait to get to visit my friends again in person, in whatever the “new normal” will look like.

Beverly Broadus is the district ombudsman for Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

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