In search of dedicated long-term volunteers, the Family Service Agency — a nonprofit organization that manages a countywide Long-Term Care Ombudsman service for seniors living in residential homes — recently partnered with The Village of Santa Barbara to launch a “Volunteer 4 Seniors” advertisement campaign.
“We have to check in on every residential facility in the county, so we need a lot of volunteers for that,” said the agency’s Marianne McCarthy. Ombudsmen are responsible for investigating complaints of retired residents, making sure there are no issues of elder abuse, and resolving the issues if there are any. The ideal ombudsman volunteer is someone who is retired “because they do have more time and flexibility,” said McCarthy.
“I can’t say enough for the differences that it makes for people who are in facilities and don’t have family nearby or anyone to check on them to make sure the staff is meeting their needs,” she said. “We call it ‘the elite volunteer experience’ because it requires a lot of passion and the ability to listen and solve conflicts.”
Ombudsman volunteer Michael Leu is the perfect example of that. He started his career as an aerospace engineer on the Apollo program, and then volunteered as a deputy sheriff, and somewhere along the line went to law school and started his own practice. “When I stopped working for money, I had the time to refocus my energy,” said Leu. “This has been a really great application of my skill set, and I’m really pleased with the way it’s challenged me.” He’s been a volunteer ombudsman for more than six years.
The seniors that Leu serves are usually struggling with “losing their independence, living next to strangers, and also depending on strangers for their care.” He said that the most rewarding part of the job is “the satisfaction of being able to relieve anxieties and protect people from harm.”
Leu recommends volunteering as an ombudsman for “anybody who has empathy for seniors and the disabled, has a little spare time, can listen and communicate effectively, and wants to be a problem solver.”