Ombudsman program

Volunteer ombudsman Dennis Carlson chats with resident Jeanette Bensemen on Tuesday at Ridgeview Terrace senior center in Reedsburg. Program coordinators say they are looking for more volunteer advocates for residents in nursing homes across Sauk, Rock, Columbia and Dane counties.


Dennis Carlson knows a thing or two about the residents at Ridgeview Terrace senior center.

He makes rounds at the Reedsburg retirement facility once a week, asking each resident how they are and if they are happy with the care they are receiving. If they would like to address an issue with staff, Carlson plays an integral role in communicating their concerns and initiating changes.

“I will check to see if the residents are around and see if they want me to come in and visit for a little bit,” Carlson said. “I’ll ask if it’s OK, and ask if everything is going OK.”

The La Valle native is a advocate for residents under the supervision of Julia Pierstorff, coordinator of the state’s Volunteer Ombudsman Program. As a volunteer ombudsman, Carlson’s job is to get to know residents, listen to their concerns and, if asked, report them to nursing home staff. The reporting is confidential, and Carlson may only bring up the issue at the residents’ request.

“Sometimes it’s a little thing where they’ll say ‘don’t say anything,’ but if they want me to bring it up, I will,” he said. “Then it hopefully gets taken care of.”

Pierstorff, who said the program needs volunteers, oversees volunteer ombudsman programs in more than 30 nursing homes across Sauk, Rock, Columbia and Dane counties. She said having an advocate for residents who is independent from staff is a key aspect of the program, as some residents may feel uncomfortable sharing concerns directly.

“Sometimes residents will feel like they don’t really want to say anything because they don’t want to get the staff in trouble, or they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” she said. “We understand that, but we remind the residents that this is their home, and that staff would want to work on anything that comes front and center for them to improve the quality of life.”

While serious issues at Ridgeview Terrace are rare, Carlson said he was able to help a resident adjust their emergency call light several weeks ago. Pierstorff said common complaints that arise at the nursing homes she oversees include issues with food, call lights, roommates and staff response times.

Ridgeview Terrace resident Jeanette Benseman said she’s happy to know she has an advocate to turn to should any issues arise.

“I usually don’t have any complaints,” she said.

“She’s pretty easygoing,” Carlson added.

Carlson began volunteering as an ombudsman in Reedsburg six years ago after he retired from teaching in the Hillsboro School District. Carlson said he came across a newspaper article that said the program was looking for volunteers. He then connected with Pierstorff, attended a daylong training session in Madison and began offering his services.

Carlson said his favorite part of the work is spending time with residents who don’t often see friends or family.

“I go home in a better mood than when I started,” he said. “The residents pick me up.”

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter