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Ombudsman makes difference for nursing home residents

 


Ombudsman makes difference for nursing home residents

April 14, 2004

By Joan G. LaBarr*

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

A girl shares a tent with other families and children at a camp for displaced people.

DALLAS (UMNS) - The term "ombudsman" comes from an old Norse word meaning the "king's man," one dispatched to investigate complaints against the government. Over the years, "ombudsman" has been redefined to refer to individuals who check out concerns and help resolve them.

In that sense, Bea Knagg is an ombudsman with a mission. A member of Wesley United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, she serves as a volunteer recruiter and ombudsman for Dallas County nursing home residents. Knagg's Nursing Home Ombudsman Program is an outreach of the Senior Source, Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas.

"I love my job," Knagg says. "I know that because I was at a nursing home today, residents' lives were improved, someone's call light was answered sooner, breakfast was served on time, an eviction was reconsidered and a resident had a friend to talk to. I have seen how our volunteers make all the difference."

Knagg finds caring for others, particularly the elderly, a natural fit. She has been active in United Methodist churches all her life and has a Wesleyan heritage that goes back generations. She became interested in ministries involving the elderly while serving as president of the United Methodist Women at Axe Memorial United Methodist Church in Garland, Texas.

When her three sons were in school, Knagg continued her own education at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she majored in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on medical administration. After graduation, she worked in the health care field, including serving as an admissions counselor for a Dallas nursing home.

Working with seniors and growing increasingly aware of issues affecting them reinforced Knagg's desire to become an advocate on their behalf. When the job opened up with the Senior Source, she eagerly accepted. "It's a wonderful, many-faceted job, visiting with people, monitoring their situations and giving voice to their concerns," she says.

"We educate residents about their rights," says Patty Ducayet, director of the Nursing Home Ombudsman Program for the Senior Source. "... When you move into a nursing home, you give up everything. I think that nursing homes can feel like a prison to some people because if you don't have anyone that visits or anyone to listen to you or anyone that you trust to deal with a problem, it is prison-like. And an ombudsman can do all those things and really make a difference."

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United Methodist Bea Knagg (left) serves as a volunteer recruiter and ombudsman for Dallas County nursing home residents.

The program "really helps to oversee things I might miss with patients," says social worker Christi Perkins.

The opportunity to recruit and work with volunteers is one of Knagg's joys. She says the program has volunteers from all walks of life. Volunteers must be 18 years old and pass a background check. They commit to work two hours weekly and are assigned to a nursing home, where they build a trust relationship with residents.

Volunteer ombudsmen report to Knagg and other staff, who follow through until the issues are resolved. "Ideally we would have two volunteer ombudsmen in each of the 56 nursing homes in Dallas County," Knagg says.

She trains volunteers and nursing home staff in patients' rights and other issues. No volunteer is ever alone, she says. Knagg and other staff are always available as support and talk with volunteers on a regular basis.

"Being a volunteer ombudsman is a calling," Knagg explains. "Visiting the elderly in nursing homes is important, but our volunteers fill an even more important role. They deal with difficult issues that need resolving. They go deeper and get into the real essence of nursing home living with the residents.

"A key role of staff and volunteer ombudsmen is to assure nursing residents that someone else is looking out for them and that they are not alone in making their voice heard," she says.

Being heard is vital to a meaningful life, and some residents live in nursing homes for up to 20 years. "Sixty percent of residents in long-term care receive no visitors," Knagg says. "Volunteers bring smiles, hope and meaning to those living there."

For details on the program, Knagg can be reached at (214) 823-5700, Ext. 249, or Bknagg@TheSeniorSource.org.

*LaBarr is director of communications for the United Methodist Church's North Texas Annual Conference.  News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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