May 29, 2012

Volunteer Ombudsman Recognized in Post Register

The Post Register featured Robin Hunt, one of our Volunteer Ombudsmen, as its Bright Spot on May 25, 2012.

The Post Register runs a weekly Bright Spot, featuring a member of our community who goes above and beyond to make Idaho Falls a stronger community.  On May 25, 2012, they chose Robin Hunt, one of the Area Agency on Aging's Volunteer Ombudsmen.  Below is the text of their feature.

A voice for the elderly

By Eryn Shay Johnson

From the Red Cross to the soup kitchen, to the gift shop and doors of the museum, Robin Hunt has volunteered her time.

Her decades of volunteer work led Hunt to the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, which helps low-income and elderly community members.

Hunt, along with five others, has been training to become an ombudsman advocate for residents of long-term care facilities. They graduate Wednesday, becoming certified to inspect institutions and talk to the elderly.

"When elderly people can't live safely in their homes, they move into an assisted-living facility," said Nick Burrows, the director of the Area Agency on Aging of Eastern Idaho. "Sadly, these people don't have much interaction from their family and have a hard time advocating for themselves.

"The ombudsman goes in and talks to the residents, investigates problems and then tries to fix them."

Helen Stanton and Marie Peterson started the program, and for years, they covered eastern Idaho by themselves. They later initiated the volunteer training program.

Stanton and Peterson teach volunteers about state and federal laws that assisted-living homes must follow, as well as residents' rights. They also teach trainees how to speak to the elderly, including those with Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, the trainees visit nursing homes for some hands-on education.

"First, we look at the physical plant to see if it is clean and hygienic and pleasant, meaning it doesn't just smell overpoweringly like Pine-Sol," Hunt said. "Then we see how the staff treats the people that are living there; we make sure they are being treated with respect.

"Finally, we look at the atmosphere; if there are enough things for the residents to do, and if there is a feeling of lightness, kindness and humor. It's quite a bit to do."

Hunt said it's important to give a voice to the elderly.

"When someone in an institution can't speak for themself, because of a fear of retribution, it is a terrible situation," Hunt said. "(Ombudsmen) listen confidentially to what someone has to say, and then they pass that information on. This is how we make facilities like nursing homes better for the people living there."

The effort yields many rewards.

"The most amazing part is you meet so many different people," Hunt said. "You meet people who really lived -- lived through some amazing moments in history. You learn so much from them."