How to volunteer with the state of Minnesota as a Certified Ombudsman

Interview with Cheryl Hennen, Minnesota State Ombudsman for Long-Term Care

Photo by Tatiana Zanon on Unsplash

What is your position with the state?

I am the Minnesota State Ombudsman for Long-Term Care.

Can you tell us more about what your office does and how it is important for those receiving long-term care in Minnesota?

The Office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care MN works to resolve problems related to the health, safety, welfare, and rights of individuals who live in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, board and care and assisted living facilities, veterans homes, and other residential care communities.  Ombudsmen promote policies and consumer protections to improve long-term services and supports at the facility, local, state, and national levels.  This includes freedom from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and the right to have autonomy over their own lives. Ombudsmen and volunteers work with individuals, their families, health care and service providers and public agencies to ensure the health, safety, well-being, and rights of long-term care consumers. We provide support to resident and family councils. We ensure that residents have regular and timely access to ombudsman advocacy services. Represent the interests of residents before governmental agencies and seek administrative, legal, and other remedies to protect residents.

Please tell us more about the Certified Ombudsman Volunteers (COV) and their importance in long-term care.

Cheryl Hennen

The impact of COV service statewide on resident quality of care and quality of life is great. COV’s are truly a valuable “lifeline” for many people receiving long‐term care services. Certified Ombudsman Volunteers listen to resident’s concerns, and together with their assigned Regional Ombudsman supervisor work to resolve resident’s complaints, they inform residents and families of resident rights, person-centered care, empower residents through Residents’ Rights education, provide support, and bring comfort to residents by reliable and caring presence in their facility. Our COVs are an indispensable part of our advocacy work.

Who is a typical COV?

An important commonality I see in our COVs is that they all want to make a positive difference in their community. They have a strong shared determination to help Minnesotans living in long-term care (LTC) facilities live their best lives and receive quality care.

You cite the number of volunteers is down – can you share why this may be?

For many obvious reasons, COVID-19 was the major factor in the reduction of our Certified Ombudsman Volunteer team.

Do volunteers find the requirements for volunteering difficult to meet?

I love the quote from Elizabeth Andrew: “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”

Our COV candidates are asked to do 36 hours of orientation to become designated Certified Ombudsman Volunteer. The requirements of orientation training for COVs are set by the Federal Government. Most of our volunteer candidates tell us they welcome and recognize the importance for comprehensive training. They want to be knowledgeable and prepared for the vital volunteer role they are about to undertake.

COVs are required to complete 18 hours of continuing educational training every year to maintain designation. We have found that our COVs want to be current on laws, issues, and resolution methods.  The state office staff provide COVs numerous opportunities to complete the 18 hours of continuing education; with bimonthly COV team meetings (offered both in person and online), all staff educational meetings, a plethora of informative webinars offered, as well as reading material that is sent to them regarding news, current trends, and advances in LTC.

Certified Ombudsman Volunteers are asked to commit to visiting their assigned facility for 6 at least hours a month. Many of our COVs choose to visit for more than 6 hours that is asked of them. The number of hours benefits the people we serve. We know this from the positive outcomes the work of the COV’s do with a dedicated focus on prevention. Resident testimonies tell us of the direct benefit.

What would you say to someone thinking about becoming a COV?

If you have a desire to make a positive impact in your community, a passion for truly helping others, and willingness to learn.

What do volunteers say they get out of serving in this capacity?

During a recent  bimonthly COV team meeting, a volunteer said about being a COV: “I get more than I give. Every time I walk out the door of the nursing home I have this great feeling, knowing that I did something good for another person”. “I hope, if one day I am living in a nursing home, I will have a Certified Ombudsman Volunteer to visit me, and help me with concerns I may have”.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about long-term care in Minnesota?

COVID-19 affected many people especially people living in long-term care facilities. People continue to face challenges when seeking the right long-term care setting for their loved one. When someone is in need of long-term care services and supports planning needs to center around the person in need of care.  A person is not defined by a diagnosis. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of where they live.

It can be difficult to make the decision about whether you or a loved one needs to leave home. Many of us want to stay in our own homes. Sometimes, decisions about the need for long-term care are made for us; quickly, for example, when a sudden injury requires skilled care. Other times, a family may plan ahead, talk to their parents and decide to look for the best place to care for an elderly relative. You may have had a conversation with a loved one where they asked you not to “put them” in a nursing home. Agreeing that you will not put someone in a nursing home may close the door to the right care option for your family. The fact is that for some illnesses and for some people, professional health care in a long-term care facility is the only reasonable choice.

All Minnesotans deserve quality of life and quality of care. Improving the quality of long-term care (LTC) facilities is an ongoing effort. Above all else, a long-term care facility is a home! Every effort should be made to create a positive environment for residents while meeting the physical, social, religious, and intellectual needs of each individual.

Where in Minnesota do you have the greatest need for Certified Ombudsman Volunteers?

Ombudsman volunteers are very much needed all over Minnesota. However, our greatest needs are in the counties of: Beltrami, Big Stone, Chippewa, Chisago, Cook, , Dakota, Douglas,  Fillmore, Grant, Houston, Itasca, Kandiyohi, Koochiching, Lac qui Parle, Lake, Le Sueur, Meeker, Nicollet, Nobles, Otter Tail,  Pope, Stevens, Redwood, Renville, Rice, Rock, St. Louis, Steele, Swift, Traverse, Waseca, Washington, Wilkin, Winona, and Yellow Medicine county. For more information about Volunteer opportunities contact Marie Kessler, Volunteer Coordinator 651-890-6308 (direct) [email protected]

Cheryl Hennen, State Ombudsman for Long-Term Care in Minnesota. More information and to volunteer.