Nursing home residents in the Finger Lakes have volunteers looking out for them

Brad Jones decided about a year ago to volunteer at a nursing home. Not that he needed more to do. A retired senior executive with Kodak, Jones has a number of irons in the fire from working as a part-time consultant to being active in local politics and environmental issues. A former town supervisor in his hometown of Italy, Yates County, Jones said he wanted to make a difference as an ombudsman.

He has, as one of 75 volunteers who advocate for residents in nursing homes and similar facilities in nine counties in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region through Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. Lifespan provides training and ongoing support for volunteers at 142 facilities throughout the region. The next training session to obtain the ombudsman state certification will take place in April. Jones encourages anyone with an interest to contact Lifespan, and now is a good time.

Jones and his fellow volunteers fulfill a crucial role. Ombudsmen, focused solely on the well-being of the residents, fill a gap, said Alana Russell, Lifespan ombudsman program director. Even the finest-run nursing homes benefit from volunteers who can help bridge communication gaps between residents and staff and facilitate solutions to problems that crop up, she said.

Ombudsmen are especially needed in New York, added Russell. The state has no minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes, so while certain standards must be met, those don’t dictate the number of staff members per resident.

Jones volunteers at Penn Yan Manor Nursing Home, a relatively small facility with fewer than 50 residents in the village of Penn Yan. He visits residents once a week, at a time that fits his schedule, and once a month attends a meeting with residents and staff. He said nursing home residents can feel isolated and he enjoys getting to know the residents, helping them feel connected and appreciated. He said new residents can have an especially hard time adjusting and he makes a special point of engaging them and doing what he can to help with the transition.

Jones shared a few of his experiences, such as helping connect residents who found they had a common interest. In one instance, during a game of trivia it came to light that one of the women crochets. That led to discovering someone else had yarn. Another person wanted to learn to crochet. The social connections kept building, Jones said.

When residents have complaints, they can often be addressed in meetings with staff — but it’s the follow-up that can be tricky, Jones said. Staff will agree to make a change — and he will be there to nudge them, if needed, to follow through, he said.

Russell explained how ombudsmen are “a neutral party” who maintain a regular presence in the homes. Ombudsmen are there to work with staff for the best outcomes, always with the welfare of the resident first and foremost, she said. If problems need certain professionals involved, Lifespan will help ensure that the appropriate authority — one who has the power to make a change — is brought in.

Lifespan’s Ombudsman Program mediates patient care issues in long-term care facilities in Monroe, Ontario, Genesee, Yates, Wyoming, Seneca, Wayne, Orleans and Livingston counties.

Each ombudsmen receives training and is assigned to a long-term care facility. Lifespan says the ombudsman is there to “listen, mediate, negotiate, propose and facilitate solutions to residents' concerns and problems.” They also help residents and families learn to advocate for themselves.

For more information, call Deb Frink at 585-287-6378; or email


You can help

Caring people are always needed to volunteer as ombudsmen in area nursing and adult homes. Lifespan provides the training necessary to become a New York State Certified Ombudsman, along with ongoing support and education. To learn more, call Deb Frink at 585-287-6378; or email The next training sessions will be held April 25, 26, 27, 30 and May 1.