LETTER: Why I became a certified ombudsman

To the Editor:

I am often asked why I decided to become a certified ombudsman, nursing home resident advocate, after a long professional career as an art historian. I answer that my work as a volunteer ombudsman is one of the most rewarding activities of my life. For the last four years, I have met people from all walks of life, who, through age, illness or a combination of both, are now living the last years of their lives in a confined space in a nursing home, where their mobility is often impaired, their day to day hours are constructed by others, and the accumulation of their lives is stuffed into a tiny room shared with a complete stranger.

I will admit that I entered this new volunteer experience with fear and trepidation, as, not being a particularly outgoing person, I worried about how I would ever gain the trust of the elderly, the sick or those with dementia symptoms. After my tentative first steps visiting, talking, and making connections, I suddenly realized that the “job” was not just about addressing complaints, but was about making friends and of developing a strong admiration for people whose lives differed so greatly from my own.

Although all problems that occur in nursing homes cannot be solved, being an ombudsman means always being concerned about the resident’s quality of life. It means developing trust between me, the residents, the staff and the administration. Bringing smiles to people, who often feel that their lives are out of their control, can make all the difference to their day. I approach each visit expecting new situations and new challenges, but I’m always reminded of the resident who told a newcomer: if you have a problem, just turn to her—she gets results.

Learning to navigate the complex role of the ombudsman has opened me up to a variety of experiences that are often exhilarating, but can also be tinged with sadness—these are life and death situations—nobody wants to die in a nursing home, so making their last journey as special and rewarding as possible is a great honor and I am enriched by the opportunity.

Fiona Dejardin, NYS Long Term Care Ombudsman Volunteer Advocate

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