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Volunteers checking up on vulnerable adults

Jill Cline is certain she'll need long-term care one day. That's why the 77-year-old retired accountant works with Solid Ground, an ombudsman program for vulnerable adults who need special living arrangements.

"Everybody's going to get there some day," Cline said.

Long-term care is a growing industry – one rife with exploitation. The Seattle Times reported multiple examples of neglect, abuse, and lax oversight in a series of special reports this year.

The governor has ordered the state Department of Social and Health Services to review its oversight of the longterm-care industry, and the agency itself recommended nearly a dozen new laws this year to prevent abuses.

Ombudsman John Stilz says an influx of new volunteers could make a bigger difference than any legislation.

“Some of these adult family homes are isolated, and we're the only people who visit,” he said.

Lack of volunteers is perhaps the biggest problem for Solid Ground. There are 56 people working as ombudsmen in King County, but that’s not enough to cover every facility.

People who need care – like the elderly, disabled, or even veterans – have several options, including nursing homes, boarding homes, and private residences called adult family homes.

Solid Ground works to improve the quality of life for people living in those places. Ombudsmen make the rounds each year, visiting with residents and their families, informing them of their rights, and looking for abuses. They also work to resolve concerns, whether they come from vulnerable adults or the people caring for them.

The problems associated with long-term care cut both ways. There are some instances where providers are dealing with unruly clients, and others where caregivers neglect their residents.

"We're like mediators and early-warning detectors at the same time," Cline said.

Bellevue has approximately 130 private residences serving as adult family homes, housing around 600 people in all. There are also 11 boarding homes and two nursing homes. Not all are bad, but every one of them needs oversight, according to Cline.

"When they're good, they can be very good, but when they're bad, they're really bad," Cline said.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Solid Ground can contact 206-694-6703 or visit ltcop.org for more information about the ombudsman program.

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