Everybody Has a Story: Advocate for care residents steps up
The door to Cecilia’s room was closed. I stood there wondering what I could do for her. I was a new volunteer with the Florida Long-term Care Ombudsman program and still learning my way around assisted living communities.
When the office had called to tell me Cecilia was being evicted and had no place to go, I felt obligated to accept the assignment but had no idea what I could do to help. I was still new to advocating for the elderly.
The door opened to reveal a small woman in her late 70s with tears running down her cheeks. My heart went out to her.
“The ombudsman office sent me,” I said. “I’m a certified ombudsman and am here to do whatever I can to help you get what you want.”
The program emphasized that we help residents get what they wanted — not what we, or someone else, thought they needed.
She asked me in.
“I’d invite you to sit,” she said, “but they packed up my stuff. I ran out of money and they told me I had to leave.”
Her room was filled with large boxes thrown around haphazardly. She told me the administrator and her assistant came a couple of days ago and announced that Cecilia would be leaving immediately, and proceeded to throw all her belongings into boxes they had brought.
“Did they have your permission to do this?” I asked.
“They made it sound like I had no choice. Will the police be coming to put me and my things on the street?”
I started to say I did not know, but decided Cecilia needed reassurance.
“No, they will not do that to you. We will work together to find you another place to live and you will stay here until that happens.”
I would verify this as soon as I could. It was clear Cecilia had no one to help her.
On my way out I spoke with the administrator and demanded to know why Cecilia’s things were stuffed into boxes. This was her home and it should be Cecilia who decided when to pack up, I said.
“She has to leave now,” said the administrator.
“Who is helping her?” I asked.
“That’s not my job. I’ve done all that I can.”
Back at home I made a plan. My supervisor verified that the police would not put Cecilia on the street. I could stick by my commitment to her. I contacted Medicaid to set up an appointment with Cecilia, and they told me what documents they would need from her. She and I went through all of her financial records and found those documents before the meeting.
As I got to know Cecilia I learned she had a son and a niece, but neither was assisting her. With her permission, I spoke to the niece, who had had an argument with Cecilia, but when she heard about the eviction she wanted to help. I assumed Cecilia would qualify for Medicaid and told the niece about the places Cecilia needed to visit, to choose another place to live.
When I spoke to her son, he was incoherent. Others told me that he may have drained his mother’s bank account but there was no proof and Cecilia said it was not true. He died a few weeks after I spoke to him and Cecilia grieved his passing.
The administrator agreed to arrange for Cecilia to visit other facilities and to coordinate with the niece. Cecilia qualified for Medicaid and picked a facility that accepted Medicaid, and it accepted her. The Medicaid worker actually showed up in a van to move her and her things.
I visited Cecilia in her new assisting living community, which was not ideal. Cecilia spoke up when she needed help and complained when she saw her roommate mistreated. The staff in her new home did not like that. With her permission, I spoke to the administrator and found him unwilling to listen to what I had to tell him about the rights that residents in long-term care enjoy. She had the right to speak up without fear of reprisal.
I closed the case and did not hear from Cecilia. About six months later, I ran into her at another assisted living community. Apparently the last facility did not work out for her but she now had help and resources to make the move without outside assistance. About the same time I learned that Cecilia’s original assisted living community, the one she liked, now accepted new residents who were on Medicaid. If only they had done that sooner.
Every state has a long-term care ombudsman program, so I joined Oregon’s program when we moved there. I live in Vancouver now, but continue to advocate for residents in Multnomah County.
Here in Washington, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program can be reached at 1-800-562-6028.
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