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Ombudsmen volunteers help Crossroads residents (video)

By BY KELDY ORTIZ - KORTIZ@VICAD.COM
March 5, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 5, 2013 at 9:06 p.m.

Yolanda Hernandez, a certified ombudsman, talks with a patient in her room at Twin Pines Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "I hope that if I'm ever here some day some people will be interested in coming to visit me," she said about the volunteer position.

How to volunteer

The Golden Crescent Area Agency on Aging is looking for ombudsmen volunteers. Please contact Christina Guajardo at 361-578-1587, ext. 217, to find out how to volunteer.

Helping the elderly, quiet, defenseless and sometimes frail - that's what Yolanda Hernandez does as a volunteer ombudsman.

For four years, Hernandez, 70, a native of Goliad and a retired office manager, has worked as an ombudsman, also known as a resident advocate. She got into this work because she wanted to help those who can't defend for themselves.

"I want to look out for the interests of the residents," said Hernandez, who works for the Golden Crescent Area Agency on Aging. "It helps to have someone to talk to."

But she is just one of 19 ombudsmen going into 39 nursing homes and assisted living facilities. State and agency officials said that more volunteers are needed to work as ombudsmen.

Christina Guajardo, elder rights coordinator at the agency and an ombudsman, said that all facilities are visited by the limited number of ombudsmen. Hernandez, for example, travels to facilities in Yorktown, Goliad and Victoria and gets reimbursed for her mileage by the agency.

"I like (volunteers) to visit a nursing home weekly, if not twice a week," Guajardo said. "We try to empower (patients) so they can address their concerns."

The Golden Crescent Area Agency on Aging, which reports its findings to state authorities, oversees Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Lavaca and Victoria counties.

The role of an ombudsman is to assess appropriate quality of life and care to residents living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Residents help ombudsmen explain to the state what is going on - whether the situation is good or bad. In 2012, more than 100 complaints about facilities were made by Crossroads residents, Guajardo said.

More complaints could be made, Hernandez said. Some patients at times are afraid to speak.

"If they say anything, it will be held against them. I tell them it's not that way," said Hernandez. "By talking to them, listening to them and understanding their concerns, we look out for the interests of the residents."

While the role of ombudsmen is to handle complaints that residents make, they also help people find the best place to live.

Patty Ducayet is a state long-term care ombudsman working with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. While state regulators go into facilities, Ducayet said ombudsmen try to catch problems before they are reported.

"We represent residents. If we believe some abuse or negligence is happening, our interest is to protect the residents, not to protect the facilities," said Ducayet. "The facilities have obligations to self-report; the ombudsman's role is to be on the rights of residents."

Barbara Solansky, 64, has been working as a volunteer ombudsman for 10 months. She said she wants to be there for residents.

"The elderly today are often the forgotten generation," said the Victoria native. "I just want to be a voice for them, and through the ombudsman program, I am."

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