LTC Ombudsman program in Fort Wayne has a mission to champion resident-driven advocacy for long-term care facility residents.
Zanzy Lewis has been the executive director of LTC Ombudsman for just a few short months, but it’s a position that she was made for.
“I’ve always had a passion for advocating for people,” says Lewis. “What we do is plain and simple: we advocate for residents’ rights, whether that be in the form of empowering or educating.”
LTC Ombudsman serves people who live in long-term care facilities, nursing homes and assisted living communities in nine counties in northeast Indiana. Staff and volunteers are trained and certified to help address complaints, resolve problems and advocate for improvements. They work closely with residents and families to ensure that loved ones are receiving the best care possible. All Ombudsman services are free and confidential.
“The majority of our phone calls are from either the residents or family members of the residents. They are asking us for help because they’ve had a bad experience or they don’t know how to navigate something, or both,” explains Lewis.
As part of the Older Americans Act of 1965, each state is required to have an ombudsman program to protect the rights of long-term care residents. For Lewis, it’s about more than preserving residents’ rights. It’s about integrity and compassion.
“We are very important and instrumental in helping residents feel like they’re human beings. When they are in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, they need to feel like they still have dignity, and they’re respected and treated as normal people. When we can empower them, and educate them and their family members about their rights, that’s huge,” Lewis says.
Volunteers are the heartbeat of LTC Ombudsman. Those volunteers currently work with residents in 94 facilities in the region. Becoming a volunteer requires 36 hours of training over a nine-month period and a willingness to visit a facility once or twice a week. Lewis says one of her first priorities is finding more volunteers in outlying communities.
“When our volunteers are in those facilities, the residents’ eyes light up. If we can do something that helps them feel good or feel heard, then we’ve done our job,” she stresses.
Supported primarily through grants, the organization is hosting a fundraiser, Rockin’ for Resident Rights Blues, Brew & BBQ at 2Toms Brewing on Oct. 20, 2022, in honor of National Residents’ Rights Month. LTC Ombudsman’s Pajama Drive also kicks off annually on Valentine’s Day, collecting pajamas and nightgowns for residents. It’s a small token that helps residents feel valued and cared for.
“Everyone has the right to dignity, respect and freedom. Residents still want to feel like they are important, and if we can just be kind and respectful and show love to those individuals, I know we can help their quality of life,” Lewis concludes.