Clearfield, PA – It’s seniors helping seniors! Some local nursing home residents volunteered and spent hours training to help other residents know their rights and be able to look out for signs that people aren’t being treated fairly.

Want to know your rights, especially as a senior citizen or as someone who is moving into a nursing home or assisted living program? Want to help volunteer? Want more info about other helpful programs available for seniors? Call the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging at 814-765-2696 or visit their website.

Listen to the full interview with Jeanne Urban from the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging. She talks about the PEER program, what rights seniors might not realize that they have, the difficulties a lot of people face as they get older, and the importance of visiting your older friends and family.

On May 21, six residents of Mountain Laurel Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center joined the ranks of more than 2500 of their peers across the state as “Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents” or PEER.

Doris Bancroft, Barbara Behel, Larry Bowser, Alan Hewitt, Bonnie Hile and Lana J. Schickling will serve as resident advocates within Mountain Laurel.  They join six fellow residents previously trained as PEER, including Ken Hullihen, Jr., who completed the classes for a second time and served as a mentor to new PEER.

The PEER Program self-empowers residents by building on their skills and lifetimes of experience.  According to ombudsman and certified PEER trainer Jeanne Urban of the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging, Inc. (CCAAA), “Trainers throughout Pennsylvania acknowledge these residents are valuable resources who already understand how to resolve issues.  They have had working careers, reared children, served in the military and been involved in civic, community and church activities.  We merely enhance their abilities by giving them 10 hours of standardized advocacy training to assure that all residents enjoy quality of care and quality of life and are treated with dignity and respect.”

The program began in 2002 in Cambria County and has spread throughout the state. Currently, the program exists in 58 out of the 67 Pennsylvania counties, and over 3500 residents have been trained.  State-certified ombudsmen – a Swedish word for citizen advocate – teach residents about their rights, about the ladder of resolution within the facility and about regulatory agencies, as well as how to advocate and maintain their rights for themselves and their peers. The PEER Program also offers residents additional information and resources that help them to be part of the solution.  PEER cooperate with their fellow residents, the facility administration and staff, and ombudsmen to achieve positive outcomes.

Once PEER are trained, they work with facility staff and the ombudsmen to establish a place for themselves within the culture of the facility.  They may serve to welcome new residents, share information on resident rights, participate in resident councils, suggest ideas or solutions, encourage residents to express preferences and make them known to staff, attend bi-monthly PEER conference calls, and train new and existing staff on what matters to residents.

“PEER from around the state have lobbied to protect resident rights, developed and signed petitions, and even appeared before the Pennsylvania House and Senate to inform legislators of their problems and perspective,” said Urban.  This was the third class at Mountain Laurel.

PEER not only help themselves and their fellow residents, but they help ombudsmen to fulfill their mission: Advocate for those who can’t, support those who can, and ensure all long-term care consumers live with dignity and respect.  For more information on the PEER Program or on ombudsmen advocacy, please call 814-765-2696 or 800-225-8571.

Programs and services of the Agency are funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging, Inc., Mature Resources Foundation, and local and consumer contributions.