STEPHEN HEMELT — Make a difference for assisted living residents

Published 12:26 am Saturday, March 26, 2022

Nearly two-thirds of nursing facility residents in the state have no immediate relatives or regular visitors.

The percentages are worse in some Orange and Southeast Texas-area facilities, officials said, making the need for volunteers all the more important.

The effort that makes the most impact in Orange County and beyond is the Texas Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.

Staff Ombudsman Nancy Seegers is part of the team that recruits, trains, certifies and oversees Volunteer Ombudsmen, who visit with nursing home residents weekly and advocate for resident rights and quality of care.

Those with a passion to become caring and dedicated volunteers complete a 36-hour training course that includes classroom, self-study and in-facility training.

After completion of training, the volunteer visits a facility once a week from 1 to 2 hours, spending time visiting with residents.

Volunteers can make their own schedules, as it is flexible to set the time when they visit.

Quarterly meetings are held for continuing education on different topics, Seegers said.

“Most people that volunteer are interested in visiting our residents in the facilities,” she said. “It helps to be a good listener and have empathy. Communication is important.”

According to Seegers, the program was in need of volunteers before COVID shutdowns and that need continues afterwards. The effort, funded by the State of Texas, depends on volunteers to visit the facilities.

The program is actively recruiting volunteers to advocate for nursing facility residents in Orange, Jefferson and Hardin counties.

“I have had a long career in Long Term Care, and this gave me an opportunity to continue with it,” Seegers said. “I have always loved working with the elderly. In our Program, there is the Managing Local Ombudsman and the Staff Ombudsman that are paid, and the volunteers are giving their services to the residents without pay but much blessings.”

During the training, a facility is assigned to the volunteer and the time is flexible for them to make the visits.

In the three-county area, the program covers more than 2,200 residents living in nursing facilities.

Caring and dedicated volunteers are needed who are willing to serve as an advocate for this growing population.

The Program is administered through the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, which is a division of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission.

Volunteers visit residents, identify and investigate complaints and educate residents, families and facility staff. The focus is on protecting the health, safety, welfare and rights of individuals in long-term care settings.

The services are confidential.

Volunteers must be 18 years old and no prior experience is needed.

Seegers stresses, if you have one to two hours a week, you’ll be able to make a difference in someone’s life.

Those interested in finding out more about volunteering and becoming a Certified Ombudsman, are asked to call Seegers at 409-899-8444, ext. 6372.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Orange Leader and orangeleader.com. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@orangeleader.com.