Volunteer Stands Up for Seniors

Ombudsman Jerome Conger stands up for seniors in long-term careJerome CongerVolunteer Stands Up for Seniors in Long-Term Care

By Ayanna Shields 

Imagine living in a nursing home, away from your family and your home. The temperature in your room is uncomfortably hot – or cold – or it could be something more serious, such as a call light not working. Who can help? For local seniors in long-term care facilities, it’s Jerome Conger – or someone like him – to the rescue.

Conger fights for senior citizens’ rights as part of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. A senior himself, the 78-year-old retired public health official volunteers 40 to 50 hours each month as an ombudsman.

Established to improve the quality of life of people who live in long-term-care facilities such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family care homes, the ombudsman program has volunteers like Conger who educate long-term-care residents about their rights, recommend legislation regarding long-term-care issues and resolve residents’ complaints.

“They are not in these places because they want to be,” he said. “They are not in their homes, although they’d rather be home. A lot of these people are in my age group or people in their late 90s and 100s who could be my parents. These are people who worked their whole lives and built this country, and they deserve the best. So now it’s our turn to take care of them, because they took care of us.”

In one case, Conger received a complaint from a resident saying a staff member was impolite.

“A physical therapist was being hard to get along with, which may seem minor, but the therapist was one of the few people with whom the resident spent a lot of time,” he said. “I was able to bring them all together and it got resolved. And she got a new therapist.”

Conger said Florida’s long-term-care facilities have problems that stem from understaffing. Residents may need the ombudsmen to help them solve problems that staff members neglect to solve. Also, residents may decide to file a grievance with a long-term-care ombudsman because they feel intimidated by staff members or they feel they’ll be punished if they complain.

“We come in and serve as their spokesman,” Conger said. “The resident will contact us if they are able to, or their family or friends. Occasionally, staff members will contact us if there is a communication problem between the resident and the staff or the resident’s family and the staff. Either way, all complaints are confidential.”

Even if someone does not have experience in long-term care, Conger said he believes they can volunteer in the ombudsman program and make a positive difference in seniors’ lives.

“This is a complex assignment, but we provide all the support and training they will need,” he said. “Volunteers learn all the rules, regulations and procedures.”
Conger said his volunteer experience has been rewarding.

“When we handle a complaint case that satisfies the resident and their family, it brings a smile to everyone’s faces. They are so appreciative,” he said.

Conger encourages anyone who is interested to participate.

“All it takes is 20 hours a month and caring about your fellow man and their well-being,” he said. “You can do something for those who have difficulties.”

Florida’s ombudsman program is one of the largest of its kind, with more than 300 volunteers. However, because of growing demands, program volunteers need more help.

With more than 150,000 people living in Florida’s long-term-care facilities, the need for volunteers such as Jerome Conger is critical.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program can call (888) 831-0404 or go to http://ombudsman.myflorida.com for more information.

Categories: Archive