UNSUNG HEROES: A voice for adults in need

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BY KATHY KAHN

Photo credit: Tom Ternquist
Photo credit: Tom Ternquist

Some retirees join boards of directors, hit the golf course or become perennial travelers, but for one Montebello resident, giving a voice to adults who often have issues dealing with the system is a passion he’s giving his leisure time to.

Tom Ternquist is an Ombudsman for Independent Living based in Westchester and serving that county, as well as Rockland and Putnam. While the county’s Ombudsman program was originally overseen by the Rockland County Office for the Aging, the state has mandated many non-profits to consolidate services.

The location where Ternquist makes his monthly reports may have changed, but his dedication to the 800 adults who live in Rockland’s seven adult homes has not diminished. He’s been making the rounds every week for the past decade, listening to concerns and complaints and often acting as a mediator between residents or between residents and staff.

While most Ombudsmen visit nursing homes and assisted living centers, there are also adult homes for people who rely on medication and therapy to keep them participating in the community. “These are not shelters,” said Ternquist. “They are real homes where people have a stable life. They can also have problems in their living situation, and that’s where I come in.”

After Ternquist applied, he was accepted into the program and received six weeks of training. “At first, I was a little taken aback that I was the sole Ombudsman for 800 people in Rockland’s adult homes, but I’ve gotten to know the residents and they’ve gotten to know me,” he said. “It can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s also rewarding. The residents and I have become connected, we trust each other and I’ve been an outlet for many who need help resolve disputes or to get them resolved.”

Ternquist reports on a monthly basis to Westchester’s Independent Living, noting conditions in the homes he visits and any complaints that need further investigation. Joanne Reed, the Ombudsman Coordinator in White Plains says the Ombudsman program is rewarding—but it is also voluntary, so the challenge is people staying connected.

“We are blessed to have Tom in our program,” said Reed. “After we were assigned Rockland and Putnam, I think the positions became unpaid, but Tom and others stayed on. We are always looking for volunteers, whether it is to regularly visit nursing homes, assisted living or adult homes.”

If your passion is giving a voice to people who feel they have nowhere to turn, think about donating your time to Independent Living. “The need is great, and with all the consolidations going on, there are less people and more in need,” said Reed. Sadly, it’s a situation many local non-profits face as funding for programs continues to shrink but the population continues to grow in the mid-Hudson.

More information: www.wilc.org

Do you know an unsung hero? Send your recommendation to editor@rocklandcountytimes.com

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