Florida's Greatest Resource, Part II

District Ombudsman Manager Robin Baker heads the small Tampa office that investigates complaints made by or on behalf of residents of long-term care facilities. Her district consists of Hillsborough and Manatee counties - that's 322 facilities between her, two other employees, and (at last count last week) 13 state-certified volunteers.

Robin assigned the complaint I made to one of her volunteers, who was on the case by the time I got to work that afternoon. The building swarmed with nervous employees as the ombudsman conducted his investigation. I was nervous too, wondering if I had done the right thing, or if I had jumped the gun. But it was the best decision I could have made with the information I had and I don't regret choosing the only option I thought would help the gentleman in a wheelchair
who deserved so much more care and respect.

I quit the next day and began a search for my third CNA job in two months and quickly landed at a luxury nursing home. The experience was so different from my first two jobs, from the interview to my last day three months later. The heavy work load, however, was the same, but there was a cohesion between all employees at this fancy place that my previous employers lacked. The admin demanded a lot from the nurses and CNA's, but they also respected us. We worked hard and they thanked us profusely. I got a dollar raise by the end of my first month. The best part, though, was getting to know Tampa's history through these residents, the retired social elite of my city: lawyers, doctors, journalists, mothers, and more.

I had mixed emotions about quitting. Physically, I just couldn't do it anymore. I miss folks from every facility I've worked at, but having spent 40+ hours a week for three months with the folks at the fancy nursing home had really bonded me to some of them. I made a compromise, kind of. After I quit, Ronny and I signed up to become ombudsmen.

Don Hering, chair of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Council, describes Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program as "a volunteer-based organization seeking to improve the quality of life of vulnerable elders who live in licensed long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family care homes." Its mission is to "protect the health, safety, welfare, and human and civil rights of long-term care facilities' 150,000 residents."
After Ronny and I completed the three days of classroom training, Don took us out for three complaint investigations and three annual facility assessments, requirements toward our certification. In January, we investigated our first complaint case solo.

I'm still learning the ropes, not to mention the politics involved. Some of the worst facilities, for example, may never be closed down. Meanwhile, some politicians have tried to get rid of the ombudsman program altogether.

Not one to fear hard work, I think I'll stick to this for a while.

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