From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Ombudsman makes difference for nursing home residents

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 14 Apr 2004 14:28:22 -0500

April 14, 2004	News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
7 E-mail: 7 ALL-WI{171}

NOTE: Photographs and a UMTV report are available at

By Joan G. LaBarr*

DALLAS (UMNS) - The term "ombudsman" comes from an old Norse word meaning the
"king's man," one dispatched to investigate complaints against the
government. Over the years, "ombudsman" has been redefined to refer to
individuals who check out concerns and help resolve them.

In that sense, Bea Knagg is an ombudsman with a mission. A member of Wesley
United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, she serves as a volunteer
recruiter and ombudsman for Dallas County nursing home residents. Knagg's
Nursing Home Ombudsman Program is an outreach of the Senior Source, Senior
Citizens of Greater Dallas.

"I love my job," Knagg says. "I know that because I was at a nursing home
today, residents' lives were improved, someone's call light was answered
sooner, breakfast was served on time, an eviction was reconsidered and a
resident had a friend to talk to. I have seen how our volunteers make all the

Knagg finds caring for others, particularly the elderly, a natural fit. She
has been active in United Methodist churches all her life and has a Wesleyan
heritage that goes back generations. She became interested in ministries
involving the elderly while serving as president of the United Methodist
Women at Axe Memorial United Methodist Church in Garland, Texas.

When her three sons were in school, Knagg continued her own education at the
University of Texas at Dallas, where she majored in interdisciplinary studies
with a focus on medical administration. After graduation, she worked in the
health care field, including serving as an admissions counselor for a Dallas
nursing home.  

Working with seniors and growing increasingly aware of issues affecting them
reinforced Knagg's desire to become an advocate on their behalf. When the job
opened up with the Senior Source, she eagerly accepted. "It's a wonderful,
many-faceted job, visiting with people, monitoring their situations and
giving voice to their concerns," she says.

"We educate residents about their rights," says Patty Ducayet, director of
the Nursing Home Ombudsman Program for the Senior Source. "... When you move
into a nursing home, you give up everything. I think that nursing homes can
feel like a prison to some people because if you don't have anyone that
visits or anyone to listen to you or anyone that you trust to deal with a
problem, it is prison-like. And an ombudsman can do all those things and
really make a difference."

The program "really helps to oversee things I might miss with patients," says
social worker Christi Perkins.

The opportunity to recruit and work with volunteers is one of Knagg's joys.
She says the program has volunteers from all walks of life. Volunteers must
be 18 years old and pass a background check. They commit to work two hours
weekly and are assigned to a nursing home, where they build a trust
relationship with residents.  

Volunteer ombudsmen report to Knagg and other staff, who follow through until
the issues are resolved. "Ideally we would have two volunteer ombudsmen in
each of the 56 nursing homes in Dallas County," Knagg says.
She trains volunteers and nursing home staff in patients' rights and other
issues. No volunteer is ever alone, she says. Knagg and other staff are
always available as support and talk with volunteers on a regular basis.

"Being a volunteer ombudsman is a calling," Knagg explains. "Visiting the
elderly in nursing homes is important, but our volunteers fill an even more
important role. They deal with difficult issues that need resolving. They go
deeper and get into the real essence of nursing home living with the

"A key role of staff and volunteer ombudsmen is to assure nursing residents
that someone else is looking out for them and that they are not alone in
making their voice heard," she says.

Being heard is vital to a meaningful life, and some residents live in nursing
homes for up to 20 years. "Sixty percent of residents in long-term care
receive no visitors," Knagg says. "Volunteers bring smiles, hope and meaning
to those living there."

For details on the program, Knagg can be reached at (214) 823-5700, Ext. 249,
# # #
*LaBarr is director of communications for the United Methodist Church's North
Texas Annual Conference.


United Methodist News Service
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