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COOS BAY — The fallout from the state's investigation of conditions at Baycrest Memory Care is having one unintended, yet positive, consequence.

It has placed the issue of long-term care, and the need for volunteer advocates, in the forefront.

That prompted a recent visit by the interim director of the Oregon Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

David Berger, who had been appointed to the post in February by Gov. John Kitzhaber, came to the Newmark Center last week to discuss basic information about long-term care in Oregon.

“My main goal (of the talk) was to help consumers understand the senior housing options,” he said after the meeting. “I wanted to make sure people understood what their options are.”

He was also hoping to inspire more people to get involved in the ombudsman program.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes an ombudsman as “one that investigates, reports on, and helps settle complaints.”

In Oregon, the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman is a free service available to residents, families, facility staff, and the general public.

The program serves residents in nursing facilities, residential care facilities, assisted living facilities and adult foster care homes.

Complaints are investigated and resolved by staff and trained and certified volunteer ombudsmen assigned to facilities throughout the state.

“Ombudsman,” the group's website states, “strive to be the eyes and ears of residents and to advocate for improvements in their quality of life and quality of care.”

However, in Coos County, until recently there had been a volunteer shortage.

Berger said the recent media attention on the overall issue has helped to bring new volunteers to the program. A dozen potential new helpers have so far reached out to get more information.

“Until recently, Coos County didn't have any (ombudsman volunteers). They said, 'If I'd only known that you needed me I would have been here.' So, it was a great opportunity to let people know we are here, that we have a wide range of services, and there is an opportunity to be part of the team.”

He said anyone can rise to the situation, but what makes a good ombudsman is someone who understands that everybody may need help.

“Someone who really understands that, potentially, we all could be affected by the system of long-term care (is someone that makes a good ombudsman)," he said. "And, I think, someone who cares about fundamental fairness and really honors and respects people who are aging or might have disability. We always need good volunteers. They are very valued. It's an important service. And it is a great way to be part of your community.”

For more information, you can check out the office's website at oregon.gov/ltco or call 1-800-522-2602. The office is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Berger said they have a full-time volunteer coordinator who is great at returning calls, so they will get back to you with plenty of information.

As for the information that he doled out during last week's visit, Berger hopes it helped shed a little bit of light on this vital program.

“I would like people, at a minimum, to know that if they move in to a licensed care facility they haven't sacrificed any of the rights they had before they moved in," he said. "And, to also know, there are lots of free and reliable sources of information. The Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman is one of the sources. The Aging and Disability Resource Connection is another.

“Information is really power. This was a great opportunity to make more people aware of what we can do for folks in licensed care facilities.”

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Reporter Tim Novotny can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at tim.novotny@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @novots34.

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