Senior Citizens Need Care Advocates Too

By Suzy Wiesenhart

That is the motto of the Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.  The definition of an ombudsman is an advocate for people who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family care homes.

As Florida’s elder population make the transition into long-term care facilities, a strong support system for each individual becomes critical. Unfortunately, many do not have anyone to look out for their best interests when it comes to personal health, safety, welfare and rights.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program has more than 300 volunteers who are passionate about improving the quality of life for residents in this unique program whose success depends on the boldness and compassion of volunteers, who dedicate thousands of unpaid hours to ensuring that the voices of Florida’s facility residents are heard.

Ombudsmen spend time working to identify, investigate and resolve the concerns of residents and their loved ones, and perform annual assessments of every facility in Florida, consistently empowering residents to know their rights, and often providing a voice for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves.

Brian Hering is an ombudsman in the program, following in his father, Don Hering’s footsteps.  Retired USMC, Don Hering, joined the program in 2004 after reading an article about a problematic assisted living facility in Tampa.  His determined advocacy efforts influenced the state regulatory agency’s efforts to shut down multiple poor performing assisted living facilities in the Tampa area. Don continued to work with the regulatory agency to ensure unlicensed activity ceased at these formerly licensed facilities. In 2011, Don Hering won the National Leadership Award and in a recommendation letter, Senator Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) wrote, “I have personally known Colonel Hering for the past five years and have been truly impressed by his passion and dedication to Florida’s elderly population.” Coming out of retirement, Don was appointed to Deputy State Ombudsman of Field Operations in Florida, and continues to work to safeguard long-term care facility residents. Brian said, “I’m so proud of my dad, and after reluctantly joining the program, totally understand his passion and I am now dedicated to helping Florida’s elderly population as well.”

The program is always looking for additional volunteers.  For more information, call 850-414-2323 or toll free 1-888-831-0404 or e-mail LTCOPInformation@elderaffairs.org.