In the backroom of a tree-lined bistro in San Francisco’s vibrant Castro District, a group embraces, laughs, and swaps amusing anecdotes. At first glance, you may guess these folks are a collection of old friends, but in reality, they are Felton Institute’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman volunteers. It is the official day of California’s reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have gathered to celebrate their triumphs in the community.

Although ombudsman may be a strange word, its purpose is vital in maintaining the welfare of those living in long-term care facilities. The Ombudsman program is the only federally mandated advocacy program that trains volunteers to report complaints occurring in these facilities. Felton Institute’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program serves over 2,700 residents in San Francisco County alone. The work of these skilled volunteers can make the difference between a safe, supportive environment and an unfit, hostile one.

Felton Institute San Francisco Long-Term Care Ombudsman Logo

As the volunteers sit down for a celebratory dinner, Julie Schneider, the Field Service Coordinator for the program, raises a glass to honor their important work and thank the volunteers.

 ”The work that all of you do is so important,” she says. “People have been so isolated this year. Having someone to listen to them makes such a big difference.”

Melissa Lee, an ombudsman volunteer, explains that during COVID-19, long-term care residents have been incredibly isolated and details how ombudsman volunteers needed to get creative to ensure their advocacy would be effective. Since the ombudsman volunteers were unable to visit long-term facilities for over a year, they tried new connection strategies like daily phone calls, facility walk-through videos, and more.

 ”It was more important than ever to make sure these people were getting patient-centered care, so we all just started trying new things,” Lee reflects. “We’re the people advocating for them. We can make a difference by just listening and making a call. We are essential for this change.”

The Felton Institute Ombudsman Program is entirely free of cost to the residents receiving the service. Without funding through private donations and other government contributions, this program could not exist. The California Long-Term Care Ombudsman CRISISline receives nearly 2,000 crisis calls every month, prompting support from programs like the one Felton Institute offers.

Some of the requests made by the residents are for physically critical needs, like a quicker response to call bells or assistance getting to the bathroom. Some matters are seemingly more trivial. However, Richard Corriea, a long-time Felton ombudsman volunteer, explains that all efforts, big and small, can make a difference in someone’s physical and mental wellbeing.

“There was one fellow that I was working with who was a World War II vet, and one day he said he could go for ‘four fingers of Scotch,'” Corriea recounted with a laugh. “So, when I left that day to try and work on the Scotch thing, I went to shake his hand, and he asked me to hold his hands for a few minutes longer. And so, we held hands for a little while—it was just the warmth of my hand in his hand that he needed.”

After jumping through some logistical hoops, Correia offered this resident a beer, a close second to the requested glass of scotch. He said this memory stuck with Correia, but it is just one of many wonderful experiences he has had as an ombudsman volunteer. 

The Felton Institute Ombudsman Program serves nearly 3,000 community members at no cost to them. An ombudsman’s role is critical to ensuring the health, welfare, and rights of older adults and those with disabilities. Whether advocating for medically vital care, listening to concerns, or simply offering a warm hand, their work is essential to making community members feel safe and supported. 

“It doesn’t matter what age you are,” Melissa Lee explains. “We all deserve adventure. We all deserve love.”

Community contributions and donations are crucial for keeping Felton Institute’s Ombudsman Program open and operating. Many of the residents served through this program are low-income or living in poverty. Without the free service of the ombudsman volunteers, many would have no one to advocate for them. If you are moved by the service of the devoted ombudsman volunteers, we invite you to invest in the services that make this advocacy possible. 

  • You may choose to give to Felton Institute today by visiting to donate online.
  • Learn more on the Felton Institute Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Page
  • Interested in volunteering? Contact Field Service Coordinator Julie Schneider at (415) 751-9788 or for more information.

Felton Donation Page

About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.

Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.

Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency.