Manassas Journal Messenger | County program seeks volunteers

Diplomacy is not just for world affairs; it can be found closer to home, or perhaps, your grandmother’s home.

The Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is seeking diplomatic volunteers to protect the rights of the elderly in local nursing and assisted living homes.

For three years, Caroline Leet has volunteered at Birmingham Green Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility in Manassas. A veteran of the program, Leet typically visits and talks with the residents, casually asking questions to determine if the establishment is satisfactory, in addition to making a mental checklist of the residents’ appearance and conditions.

“I get to know them and what they like and what they don’t like,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing some good, and the elderly are short-changed in many ways.”

Ombudsmen like Leet work with the residents of nursing and assisted living homes to voice their concerns about residents’ rights. They are taught to use listening, observing and mediating skills to resolve complaints or guide the residents to the correct places, management or otherwise, to solve the problem.

The program seeks those who are diplomatic, good listeners, good communicators, can tolerate conflict and enjoy meeting others. People often come wanting to explore career possibilities, and the program provides a lot of good training, said Coordinator of Volunteers Nancy Cavicke.

Volunteers are assigned to a home in order to build relationships there.

“Volunteers spend time chatting but have a focus, so as to help solve residents’ concerns,” Cavicke said. “They’re there to be a liaison between the home and the resident.”

They also advocate improvements in quality of life in homes, provide information to long-term care providers, educate the community and visit residents. Ombudsmen aim to get residents to deal with problems on their own and empower them to take care of themselves, Leet said.

Currently, Prince William County has only four volunteers and requires seven to contribute time to the county’s 11 assisted living homes and four nursing homes. Manassas has one volunteer.

Volunteers can set their own schedules but should be able to work four hours a week.

“We have a range of volunteers, but we ask that they be available to work during the day when the residents are up and management is available, so many volunteers are retired or have flexible shift work,” Cavicke said.

The county’s program is in its 20th year, the longest, in the state with consistent volunteers each year. It is funded in part by the Prince William County Area Agency on Aging.

Those interested should apply in August for the September training sessions, which will take place Sept. 12, 13 and 23 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day. Training includes information about residents’ health care needs, communication with people with physical or mental impairments, long-term care facility operation and complaint handling.

“I think it’s a very worthwhile thing.” Leet said. “I feel I come away with more than I came in with. If I’m not happy when I go in to volunteer, I always come out happy.”

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