By Betty Berry, Tuesday, July 20, 2010  Q: I just placed a family member in a nursing facility, which mentioned a long-term-care ombudsman. Can you explain what an ombudsman does?

A: I’d be glad to. “Ombudsman” is a Swedish word that means citizen representative. A long-term-care ombudsman is a state-certified community volunteer who is trained to objectively investigate and resolve problems for residents in long-term-care facilities.

The ombudsman’s main goal is to ensure that residents at such facilities are getting the services to which they are entitled. Many of these residents have little or no contact with the outside world. Nor do they have control over their lives. The ombudsman serves as an advocate for residents and helps to improve their quality of life.

At least one experienced and trained ombudsman is assigned to each facility and is required to spend a specified period of time there each month. He or she is available to assist in resolving problems related to residents’ rights, physical and mental care, personal dignity, meaningful activities, legal or financial problems and regulatory red tape.

The Long Term Care Services of Ventura County Ombudsman Program is a nonprofit organization. Services are free of charge and confidential. The program can be reached from Mondays through Fridays at 656-1986.

Q: My neighbor receives an SSI check from the federal government each month. Is this the same as Social Security?

A: No. SSI, Supplemental Security Income, is not the same as Social Security. Although the Social Security Administration oversees the SSI program, the money comes from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury.

SSI is a program for people who are in financial need. Checks are paid to people who are 65 and older, or blind or disabled if they meet the strict eligibility requirements. Some of the funds in the SSI check might come from the state. For the recipients’ convenience, state and federal governments have agreed to combine their payments into one check that is rendered by the federal government.

To qualify, applicants must have little or no income and very few assets. They must be either United States citizens or in this country legally. In addition they must live in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands.

If the applicant is eligible for other benefits such as Social Security, he or she must apply for those benefits before SSI can be determined. For more detailed information about eligibility and benefits, contact the Social Security Administration.

Q: I have a friend who recently lost her sight. When I’m visiting I want to help her, but I’m not sure what I should or shouldn’t do.

A: How thoughtful of you to consider your friend’s special needs. Whenever possible treat your friend as you would any sighted person. Most people who have a disability learn to work with their limitations and want to do for themselves wherever possible.

Help your friend use whatever vision she may have. Legal blindness is not necessarily total blindness; wide gestures and contrasting colors, especially black and white, are more easily seen.

Always ask how you can be of help before taking the initiative to act. For example, if you are in a restaurant don’t assume you need to read the menu aloud — ask if doing so would be helpful.

When walking from one area to another allow your friend to take your arm; don’t take hers. As you walk, alert your friend to changes such as a narrowing of walkway or steps ahead. Relax and enjoy your visits. You will soon learn when assistance is appreciated.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; or call 495-6250 or e-mail You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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