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Retired couple have an impact as long-term care ombudsmen in Idaho

By Mark Kinney – contributing writer

Lew and Gloria Hinshaw sought a way to serve as retirees.

Lew and Gloria Hinshaw’s observant eyes, empathetic ears and inquisitive nature make a difference to residents living in a long-term care facility in Post Falls where they volunteer as long-term care ombudsmen.

When they moved in 2015 from Kansas to North Idaho to be closer to their daughter, Brynn, and her family, their chief goal was to serve their new community.

Gloria, a retired special education teacher, decided to apply through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to help as a reading tutor at a Post Falls elementary school.  While she was applying in the Area Agency on Aging office, Lew, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, browsed literature in the waiting area and noticed a pamphlet for the Idaho Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. 

It piqued his interest as something he and Gloria could do together.

After discussion and prayer, the couple decided to explore the possibility of serving as ombudsmen.

They recognized the need when they learned only one other North Idaho couple was serving in the volunteer program. After being accepted and completing a seven-week training program in September 2015, they began serving as qualified volunteer ombudsmen that November.

According to Lew, an ombudsman is an advocate for residents and a problem solver. 

“We first try to help residents solve any problems they may have,” Lew said.  “If necessary we can ask the resident for permission to investigate the problem and share findings with the facility administration.”

If a resident won’t give permission to investigate a problem, Lew said, ombudsmen may anonymously survey other residents to see if they are experiencing a similar problem. 

“We are even given access to a resident’s medical chart to explain any changes in their physical condition,” Lew said.

He and Gloria can elevate more serious issues to an ombudsman employed by the state. 

“We would do so, if warranted and after relaying the allegation to the facility administrator,” he said.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program was instituted as part of the Older Americans Act of 1965 because of concerns with the quality of nursing facilities, the care provided in them and the government’s ability to enforce regulations in these facilities, Lew said. 

Unlike regulators, whose role is to apply laws and regulations, the mission of ombudsmen is to help identify and resolve problems on behalf of residents to improve their overall well-being.

The Act mandates that states create monitoring programs, he said. Idaho’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is chartered to protect the health, safety, welfare and rights of long-term care residents who are 60 years or older. 

Lew and Gloria are assigned to a 100-bed facility with four cottages and with memory care.  They typically visit twice a week for one-and-a-half to two hours at a time.  Their visits are unannounced. 

 “We visit with residents and try to sense how they are doing and if they are properly dressed and clean,” Gloria said.  She said those two factors are often indicators of care issues.

She and Lew enjoy working together as a team. 

“Doing it as a couple gave us more confidence at first,” she said.  “We have a second set of eyes and each other to consult with, and we can achieve twice as much in the same amount of time.”

She said there is an additional benefit to their team approach.

 “It’s good because sometimes a resident may be more comfortable speaking to a man or a woman,” she said.

Gloria said they try to reach out to all residents, including those with severe memory conditions. 

“Despite their condition, they can see we care,” she said “and we can tell when there is a connection being made.”

The Hinshaws meet with other volunteer and state-employed ombudsmen every six weeks to hear from speakers directly involved in elder care. They report on their visits, including the hours served, relevant observations and lessons learned. 

They leave business cards with their contact information in the facility for residents or family members who may want to contact them to discuss care-related issues, Lew said. 

“We feel it’s important to be accessible,” he said.

When asked, Lew and Gloria will pray with residents. At home, they also pray together for the residents they serve, often by name.

The Hinshaws were inspired to serve others by the example of their parents, who were active volunteers in retirement. 

Lew’s father was a volunteer music leader and choir director in several congregations, and his parents had music ministries in several local nursing homes. 

“My mother played piano, and my dad sang and played violin,” he said.

Gloria’s father transported people in need to appointments, was a volunteer tax preparer and served as a Big Brother to an inner city child for many years.  Her mother knitted mittens for children and durable cotton leper bandages for people suffering from leprosy. 

Gloria said that in the early 1960s her mother stood up to segregation in their community when a young African exchange student was not allowed to swim at the local swimming club. 

“They told us they could accommodate us after the club closed because they did not want other members to be uncomfortable.  My mother let them know it was wrong and our family canceled our membership,” she said.

Lew graduated in pre-med and psychology in 1965 from the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and graduated in 1971 from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. 

Gloria began her undergraduate degree in sociology at Illinois Wesleyan in Glen Ellyn, Ill., but moved with her parents to Tucson, Ariz., and completed it at the University of Arizona in 1971.

Realizing she would need a master’s degree to work in her chosen field, she enrolled in the University of Arizona’s guidance and counseling program, where she met Lew, who was also enrolled in the program. They were married in the Congregational Church in 1977.

After working together as outpatient mental health counselors in Tucson, Lew explored entering pastoral ministry and applied for ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ.  After he was accepted, Lew and Gloria began serving together in ministry at a Congregational church in Phoenix.

They served at three more congregations in Overland Park, Lawrence and Baldwin, Kansas, until Lew retired in 2015.

Gloria worked as a paraprofessional in special education classrooms during their time in ministry before she decided to become a certified special education teacher. 

Then she returned to graduate school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kans., to earn certification in special education. She worked as special education teacher until a retiring in 2012.

Lew and Gloria alternate between worshiping at Community Presbyterian Church in Post Falls and at Westminster United Church of Christ in Spokane.  They also attend weekly Taizé services at Gonzaga’s Ministry Institute.

They noted there are more than 70 long-term care facilities in the five counties of North Idaho with one full-time and two part-time state-employed Long-Term Care ombudsmen for those counties. 

The Hinshaws said there is need for more volunteer ombudsmen like them.

“We encourage others to become ombudsmen. The need is great and so are the rewards.” Gloria said.  “It’s a wonderful feeling helping to make a difference in someone’s life.”

For information on volunteering in Idaho, call Jan Noyes at 208-667-3179 or in Washington, call Aaron Riley at 509-456-7133.

Copyright © January 2018- The Fig Tree