Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Introducing the “Ask Mary" column

What do I look for when choosing a long-term care facility? My mother says she doesn’t like the food at the assisted living facility she’s in. Does she have a choice? Where can I go to get help?

Mary Bruels, three year veteran ombudsman volunteer of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program often hears questions like these while conducting facility visits or complaint investigations at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or adult family-care homes.

"The way society treats its children and elderly is very telling. There’s not a lot I can do to change how we treat the elderly on a global basis but on a one by one basis, I like to think I can make it better. If I make it better for that one person, then I hope someone will do that for me one day," said Bruels.

Bruels is one of the 300 plus volunteers that make up the unique and mostly volunteer run Ombudsman Program. Ombudsmen volunteers are trained and certified to take complaints from or on behalf of residents living in long-term care facilities. Volunteers also educate family, caregivers, residents, facility staff, and consumers about important rights given to residents upon entering a facility. Volunteers from the program’s 17 districts across Florida assist residents with questions about long-term care, resident rights, and what to look for when visiting and choosing a facility.

Choosing a long-term care facility like a nursing home, assisted living facility, or adult family-care home can be a daunting task. Knowing where to get help to navigate the roadways of long-term care can be more than a little confusing and as Baby Boomers and their parents age, the discussion of long-term care is likely to arise.

After retiring as a director of provider relations, responsible for the development and implementation of a statewide (Florida) network of specialty physicians for a workers’ compensation network, Bruels was looking for a way to serve the community. Little did she know she was about to jump into the world of long-term care and become an expert on the subject. It all started when Bruels received a phone call from her sister.

"My sister saw a booth about the Ombudsman Program at a convention and recommended I check it out for volunteer opportunities. Later, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper and decided to call and get more information," said Bruels, "And the rest is history."

Bruels quickly rose into leadership positions within the program, serving as state representative for the Pinellas and Pasco District. As the state representative Bruels assisted in rolling up issues and concerns from the local level to the state level. Currently, Bruels serves as the district chair for the Mid and South Pinellas District. As the district chair, Bruels focuses on leading the council in cooperation with the district manager.

"Mary Bruels is an outstanding ombudsman with a thorough understanding of residents’ rights," said former Mid and South Pinellas District Manager, Natalie Clanzy. "She has the knowledge and experience needed to be a strong advocate for residents. She conducts thorough investigations and follows through to ensure issues are resolved. Her leadership skills have been a great asset to residents, facilities, fellow ombudsmen, and the community."

Bruels understands the importance of partnering with ombudsmen staff as well as other state agencies and stakeholders to reach a common goal of ensuring that long-term care residents’ rights are protected.

"When a resident looks me in the eye and says thank you for your help, you listened to me and I really appreciate it, that’s the greatest reward I get from volunteering," said Bruels. "Working to solve one problem for one resident may have a positive effect on a whole lot of residents. I like working on a global level to solve a local problem."

Considering the work Bruels does, it was no surprise that she agreed to be the lady behind the “Ask an Ombudsman” column. 

“Many people are unfamiliar with the Ombudsman Program and the services it provides to long-term care facility residents.  With long-term care becoming more of a hot topic across the state, I’m excited to see how this column will answer people’s questions and serve the community," said Bruels.

If you would like to submit a question to Mary Bruels about long-term care, please send them via email to titled "Ask Mary."  Look for a response in one of the next issues of the Island Reporter or on this blog.
Mary Bruels, volunteer ombudsman

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