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Big Shoes to Fill: OR Needs Long-Term Care Volunteers

March 22, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - The state Long-Term Care Ombudsman needs more eyes and ears around Oregon to help advocate for the more than 50,000 Oregonians who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Many are vulnerable and unsure of their rights, or even how to speak up for themselves, when questions or concerns arise.

After training, volunteers are assigned one or two facilities in their area, where their job is to check in regularly and keep informed, helping residents understand and exercise their rights.

Gretchen Jordan is the volunteer coordinator for the ombudsman's office.

"They have a great opportunity to really make a difference, one person at a time. It takes someone who is able to, listen to both sides of the story but, ultimately, they always side for the rights of the resident; that's their main role."

There are six state investigators who handle the most serious allegations against care facilities, but with 55,000 beds around the state, Jordan says, it takes a network of 200 volunteers to cover the everyday situations that arise. The system is especially short-handed in Eastern Oregon and on the coast, although Jordan says she could use more volunteers almost anywhere.

AARP Oregon has pledged to help the ombudsman's office fill the needs. Being an ombudsman is challenging, but Bandana Shreftha, director of community engagement with AARP Oregon, says it has rewards.

"They can just set their own time, so even though it's a big commitment in terms of the important work they're doing, it's very flexible. And what we've found is that people really, really find it meaningful, because they're making such an impact in people's lives."

Volunteer training sessions are held around the state. More information and the training schedule can be found online, on the Oregon Long-Term Care Ombudsman's Web site, which is www.oregon.gov

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR