State lawmakers should invest $175,000 to provide the resources to train and supervise 150 new long-term care ombudsman volunteers. Our vulnerable seniors deserve it.

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YES, it is good that the 85-plus age group is the fastest growing. But what if you have no caregivers and have to move into a nursing home or other facility? Who can you depend on to visit you regularly, to check that your rights and needs are being met? It is the long-term care ombudsman volunteer, if you are lucky to be in a facility where an ombudsman is assigned.

In Washington state, we had 500 such volunteers who received 32 hours of training, who were state certified and agreed to visit residents a minimum of four hours per week. Unfortunately, we have lost 150 of those volunteers. Recession budget cuts were too deep to sufficiently continue the ongoing staff support for recruitment, training and oversight of new volunteers to replace those who retired.

You can change this.

Want to volunteer?

For information on becoming a long-term care ombudsman volunteer, call the state hotline: 800-562-6028. Or send an email to:

Statewide 68,000 mainly vulnerable elders live in long-term care facilities. Less than half receive regular ombudsman visits. Documented cases are found of poorly trained staff, malnutrition and dehydration, bedsores, falls, abuse and neglect and poor dementia care. The state Department of Social and Health Services is required to visit facilities once every 12 to 18 months unless they receive a complaint. However, in the facilities ombudsmen regularly visit, 92 percent of problems are solved to the satisfaction of the residents without resorting to calling on state-paid problem-solvers.

In King County, volunteers are insufficient in numbers and visit only 45 percent of the 68 nursing homes, 15 percent of the 151 assisted-living facilities and 25 percent of the 1,100 adult family homes. As an ombudsman visiting a nursing home, I found it was quite common for residents to wait up to 30 minutes for help after ringing the bell for toilet assistance. I noticed and reminded staff to help that person in Room 201.

At one home, I met an elderly resident who never ate in the dining room. She talked with her hand covering her mouth because it was hollow. She was embarrassed to have no teeth. Her dentures lay in a bedside drawer since they no longer fit her. She had been given nothing but minced and pureed food for four months. She ate all meals beside her bed, ashamed to eat in front of others. She had no family or friend to advocate for her.

On her behalf, I spoke to the administrator. Two weeks later, I saw that same elderly lady in the dining room, dentures in her mouth, eating real food and happily socializing with other residents. That is the kind of job that ombudsman volunteers do — intervene to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people who may have no one to speak up for them.

Our country is experiencing a demographic shift. The number of frail older adults who will have severe functional limitations will more than double by 2040, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study. Let’s get the jump on this problem before it overwhelms our state resources and those seniors who have contributed to making this a great state to work and to retire.

Our legislators are meeting in Olympia. Please call the toll-free legislative hotline — 800-562-6000 — and ask the operator to tell your district senator and two representatives to restore $175,000 to the 2017 ombudsman budget to provide the resources to train and supervise 150 new ombudsmen and attain a goal of making regular visits to 82 percent of Washingtonians in all types of long-term care facilities.

You don’t even have to know your legislative district or who your elected officials are. Just tell the hotline operator your name and address. They will very helpfully do the rest.

Make this five-minute effort to ensure that fellow citizens who can no longer age at home get the best possible care in our long-term facilities.