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Ombudsman program needs more volunteers throughout north country

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OGDENSBURG — Now that Jefferson County has a handful of fully operational long-term care facilities, Catholic Charities wants to provide enough ombudsman volunteers to ensure residents’ rights are maintained.

Winny Sachno, volunteer coordinator for the state Long-Term-Care Ombudsman Program in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, said the buildup of assisted-living, skilled-nursing and enriched-housing facilities now means additional program volunteers are needed to cover more ground in Jefferson County.

“Jefferson is probably my primary source of focus, but I welcome volunteers in all counties,” she said. “It’s always helpful to have a good, healthy roster.”

A handful of elder-care facilities in Jefferson County have multiple floors with hundreds of residents, and that is a task too big for one ombudsman volunteer, she said.

Volunteers are required to take certification training, which Ms. Sachno will offer later this fall. Volunteers work for the residents, but with their residential facility management.

“Our goal is to always empower people to solve their own problems,” she said. “When folks go into long-term care, that’s their home. It’s people’s home where they receive medical care; that’s a nuance that’s often forgotten. They have a right to ask for certain things, like with self-determination.”

Residents may feel as if they’re imposing if they voice their opinion, but ombudsmen are there to say, “It’s OK,” Ms. Sachno said. “We work for the residents,” she said.

Volunteers typically are assigned to a long-term care facility closest to their home, and are encouraged to volunteer just a few hours each week. They also are encouraged to attend monthly meetings, where they receive in-service training to remain updated on issues and policies, and also hear from guest speakers from related fields.

Ms. Sachno said there are just over a dozen ombudsman volunteers throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, with the bulk of them in St. Lawrence County.

“It’s a calling,” she said. “You have to have a heart for that kind of specific volunteering. Folks are in long-term care facilities because they are at the end stages of their life.”

For more information, or to enroll as a volunteer, call Ms. Sachno at 393-2255 or Cristina Perez, Watertown, at 788-4330.

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