Consider becoming a volunteer advocate for nursing home residents

An excited buzz spreads among the nursing home residents in the living room: “She just came in the door!” “I’m talking to her first.” “I’m going to tell her about the cold food last night.” “Gonna tell her — the staff don’t answer my call bell.” “I want to tell her my granddaughter just got into Montclair State!” Even the non-verbal residents with dementia smile at the sound of her voice.

“Hi folks, how you doing?” There she is, the Volunteer Advocate for that nursing home. It could be a “he.” Volunteer Advocates serve as the goodwill ambassadors for the NJ Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman (NJLTCO), but they are so much more.

Nursing home residents get to see their Volunteer Advocate (VA) for four hours a week. The VA greets each resident by name and with a warm smile. They take the time to listen, hold someone’s hand if needed, and promise to speak up for them if they have a problem. They let a lonely or frustrated resident know that they are not forgotten.

Does this sound like something you could do? NJLTCO, the state agency that advocates for the rights of elderly people living in nursing homes, is seeking people to serve as front-line advocates for these residents.

“One of the best, most direct ways for New Jersey residents to reduce elder abuse and neglect is to become a certified volunteer nursing home advocate,” said Laurie Brewer, NJLTCO director. “We need advocates in every county, and we need them now.”

“More than 130 New Jersey nursing homes do not yet have a volunteer advocate assigned,” said Deirdre Mraw, who is the statewide coordinator for the NJLTCO Volunteer Advocate Program. “That means the residents of those facilities do not have easy access to an unbiased, independent advocate to hear their concerns and troubleshoot problems for them.”

NJLTCO provides advocacy to people living in long-term care facilities and investigates allegations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation on their behalf. There are currently more than 230 highly trained volunteer advocates who assist the agency’s full-time staff by visiting their assigned nursing homes at least four hours a week.

“NJLTCO volunteer advocates reflect the broader community. They come from all walks of life and every age group. Some are drawn to working with elderly residents because of their own personal experience with aging family members. Others are retirees seeking a meaningful and rewarding way to use the skills they acquired during their careers to benefit the larger community,” said Mraw.

Volunteers undergo 32 hours of training in communication, observation, and troubleshooting skills. They then “shadow” an experienced volunteer. Once assigned to a facility, they must spend at least four hours a week visiting residents.

“The volunteer’s schedule is flexible,” said Mraw. “The main goal is to be a regular presence in the nursing home and to act as a sounding board for residents who might otherwise feel that they have no power or no voice.”

When issues are identified in a nursing home, the VA can play an important role in resolving issues at the facility level. However, if it cannot be resolved satisfactorily, the advocate can refer the matter to the Ombudsman’s office for further action, said Brewer.

Anyone over the age of 21 who is interested in volunteering can email Deirdre Mraw at or call her at 609-826-5053. Or check out the NJ Long-Term Care Ombudsman website at

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