According to Family Service Agency, Mike Leu is a superhero to a commonly overlooked population: the frail elderly. As a volunteer long-term care ombudsman, Leu spends on average 80 hours per month advocating for elderly residents of long term care facilities throughout Santa Barbara County.
Before becoming an ombudsman, Leu said he was completely unaware of the problem facing seniors.
“There has been, and continues to be, an explosion of under-prepared elderly people who find themselves in care facilities and don’t know their rights,” said Leu. “This is a huge problem, especially for those who don’t have family or friends who can advocate for them.”
Over the course of his five years as an ombudsman, Leu has accumulated a plethora of stories that illustrate the vital nature of his work.
“A resident of a care facility reported that money was disappearing from her bank account,” said Leu. “I worked with the bank to institute protections against additional losses and arranged for someone to provide assistance with her finances. I determined the unauthorized withdrawals were being made by an elderly relative of the resident. Further investigation revealed that the relative was herself being abused and coerced to make the withdrawals by a man who had recently injected himself into her life. This information was shared with law enforcement, and the man was ultimately arrested. In the end, two separate elder abuse situations were resolved in this case.”
A former aerospace engineer, who incidentally worked on the Apollo program, Leu finds being a long-term care ombudsman a perfect fit. Once he “stopped working for money,” Leu looked for an opportunity where he could utilize his problem solving, mediating and investigative skills to help others, skills he honed after receiving a law degree and spending three decades as a reserve deputy sheriff in Santa Barbara County.
Even with help from Leu and other ombudsman representatives, the needs of the community’s frail elderly population continue to outpace the number of volunteers.
There are approximately 150 care facilities with a capacity of more than 4,000 residents that require ombudsman support in Santa Barbara County. As a result, Family Service Agency is actively seeking additional ombudsman representatives throughout Santa Barbara County, especially in the Santa Maria area.
According to Marco Quintanar, program supervisor for the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, “The need for advocates for the long term care facilities in the county continues to escalate as our senior population grows. Volunteers are a critical component of the ombudsman program. Without their commitment, passion and tireless efforts, FSA would be unable to meet the ever increasing demand for their services.”
Working under the supervision of staff, volunteer ombudsmen advocate for residents in long-term care facilities (skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities), conduct visits to facilities, respond to resident complaints and witness Advanced Health Care Directives empowering the residents to make decisions about their medical care.
Volunteers are asked to serve just four hours per week for one year (unlike Leu, who voluntarily takes on more cases). Additional prerequisites include being over 21, computer literate, able to attend basic and ongoing monthly trainings, have strong interpersonal skills and a passion for serving seniors.
Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara took over the reins as sponsor of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program in 2014 from the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens, Area Agency on Aging.
The Commission had previously assumed temporary responsibility of operating the service in 2011 with the goal of finding a local agency to sponsor the program.
On May 5, the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program was named Senior Citizen Program of the Year by the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens, Area Agency on Aging.
— Melinda Johansson is the development and marketing manager at Family Service Agency.