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Mary Dalton

Mary Dalton

When was the last time you visited a friend or relative who lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility?

October is Residents’ Rights Month, the perfect time to visit someone you know – or meet someone new – and pay tribute to those people who live in long-term care facilities.

This month, I’d like to encourage you to take a few hours out of your busy life to stop by one of the four nursing homes or 20 assisted living facilities in Missoula and say “hello” to a few of the residents.

You might be surprised to find out how rewarding it can be to sit in the presence of an older adult and reminisce about the good ol’ days!

You’ll meet people both young and old. Some may have a chronic illness or disease that limits their physical ability, yet they are delighted to share their stories about growing up in Eastern Montana, or how they moved here from another state to be closer to their son or daughter.

You’ll meet teachers, musicians and business owners who have enjoyed gardening, traveling and the simple pleasures of friends and family throughout their lives. You’ll meet younger adults who volunteer in their communities, are avid sports fans and enjoy engaging in the day-to-day camaraderie with other staff.

Nationally recognized as Residents’ Rights Month, October is a time to honor the residents, their families, friends and facility staff who work to ensure good care and a meaningful life for each resident.

This month we also celebrate the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law, which requires quality of care and quality of life for residents, including an extensive list of Residents’ Rights to protect their dignity and self-determination.

As an ombudsman for people living in long-term care facilities, my role is to connect with people who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to help them understand and exercise their rights.

I work with a team of volunteers called Friendly Visitors who each spend up to four hours a month visiting with residents and providing information on their rights and the Ombudsman Program.

On any given day, I respond to complaints reported to me by residents, their family members, facility staff or other agencies. Common issues range from personal preference of food being served, to call lights not being answered in a timely manner, to privacy and dignity rights being violated, but can also include allegations of abuse or neglect.

The ombudsman program is a resident-driven program. I take my direction from the residents, any and all conversations are confidential. I only take action based on the resident’s wishes. With his or her permission, I can assist with problem resolution, mediation and filing formal complaints.

For example, Sam (not his real name) lived at a local long-term care facility and had numerous complaints regarding his personal spending allowance, access to shopping, choice of food and drink, and restrictions on smoking.

Overall, he was dissatisfied with his living arrangements and wanted to move out. The Missoula Aging Services ombudsman recognized that his resident rights were being violated, so she arranged a care plan meeting with Sam and various key staff at the facility.

Although she faced many roadblocks while seeking resolution to his case, she continued to advocate on Sam’s behalf. She explored options for alternative housing by working with Sam’s guardian and other Aging Services staff, and was able to find an appropriate assisted living facility for which he was eligible through the Medicaid waiver program. Sam is much happier now.

This month, take time to visit one of our local facilities. You’ll brighten someone’s day and in turn brighten your own. Acknowledge the important role of friends and family who provide support to someone living in long-term care, and say “thank you” to one of the hardworking staff members who assist residents with their daily care needs and engage them in activities to provide quality of life.

For questions about Residents’ Rights, or if you’d like to become part of our Friendly Visitor volunteer team, call Missoula Aging Services at 728-7682, or visit our website at Missoulaagingservices,org.

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Mary Dalton is a certified long-term care ombudsman and coordinator for the Friendly Visitor program at Missoula Aging Services.

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