Linda Petrie helped craft the region’s first long-term care ombudsman program in 1990 – overseeing volunteer advocates for the more than 7,000 residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes in Spokane and the four adjoining counties.
Now 25 years later, Petrie, 63, is retiring and feels fulfilled leaving the “from scratch” program that now has 40 volunteers and a reputation for helping the most vulnerable people in the community – people who are old, frail, ill and disabled and living in long-term care facilities.
Petrie is one of a handful of key senior advocates who recently retired after decades of helping seniors and their families, including Nick Beamer, the executive director of Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington; Pam Sloan of E lder Services; Larry Weiser, the director of Gonzaga University’s Elder Law Clinic; and Maria Peck, the director of Eastern Washington University’s School of Social Work.
Petrie joked they are all part of the baby boomer retirement wave.
According to the Social Security Administration about 10,000 baby boomers retire each day.
Yet Petrie said she’s leaving the ombudsman program in good hands, those of Aaron Riley who recently moved from Columbus, Ohio.
Riley, 54, has a background in working with seniors, along with the American Red Cross and United Way. Most recently he worked for the Franklin County (Ohio) Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board.
His goal is to attract more volunteers to visit the 27 nursing homes, 71 assisted living facilities and nearly 200 adult family homes in Spokane and the adjoining four counties. With 7,124 long-term care beds in the region, 40 volunteers aren’t nearly enough.
In 2014, Petrie’s office registered 2,377 facility visits and 4,993 volunteer hours.
“We know the silver tsunami is coming and we need to gear up and try to meet the needs of people,” Riley said.
Both Petrie and Riley encourage people to sign up for the four-day volunteer trainings. All potential volunteers are interviewed and screened before the trainings.
Petrie doesn’t plan on volunteering for another service organization just yet. She wants to take care of some family obligations and then fish with her husband and perhaps take a couple road trips.
She didn’t become involved with senior care until after she had raised her family and took a job as an in-home health care worker. Before long she was a supervisor. Then the ombudsman program was created by the state.
“I found out I just absolutely loved working with elders and other clients such as the disabled,” she said. “It’s been a neat experience to do work and live out your values.”
For her those values are treating people with dignity and respect, the essence of the ombudsman program.
The program is mandated by Older American Act to help prevent elder abuse and neglect. Petrie became the first regional ombudsman when the nonprofit SNAP took over regional facilitation of the program. There are 13 ombudsman offices in the state.
“Linda has been the vital cog in the wheel of this program,” SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp said. “She has a real heart for seniors as well as the volunteers who dedicate their time to this important cause.”
Petrie describes the mission is about volunteers building relationships with residents, families and staff instead of defensive watchdogs.
They don’t spy and they don’t pry. The goal is to have residents approach them with concerns, everything from being cold at night to fearing they aren’t getting the correct dosage of medication.
Often staff will call an ombudsman if a dispute arises. If needed, the ombudsman can contact Adult Protective Services and Residential Care Services for further intervention.
When Petrie first started in 1990, there were more nursing home facilities and all of them had smoking rooms. The facilities were less expensive and most were older buildings.
Perhaps the biggest change was the passing of the federal residential rights law that was part of the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law. That meant health care workers and staff could no no longer restrain residents with vests or seat belts or hand mitts. Chemical restraints such as sedatives aren’t allowed unless authorized by a physician.
Petrie said that was important win for the ombudsman program.
“When you don’t feel well, you don’t feel like fighting for your rights,” Petrie said.
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