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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Alexandria. International Falls. Waseca. Winona. The list of Minnesota communities in need of a vital and specialized type of volunteer — one whose mission is advocating for long-term care residents — spans the state.

The position, which is unpaid but has expenses reimbursed, is known as a "certified ombudsman volunteer." It's a program with a noble, decadeslong history in Minnesota but, unfortunately, one whose ranks have thinned over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic delivered a particularly unhelpful hit.

In response, the state Office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care has issued an urgent call for more volunteers, with the greatest need outside the Twin Cities and in the state's eight Veterans Homes. The Star Tribune Editorial Board is honored to amplify this plea and urge Minnesotans to step up.

It's in everyone's interest to do so. Many of us have a loved one who is in long-term care, or has needed it in the past. At some point, many of us will require the care as well.

The volunteers, typically assigned to a particular facility or community, provide another layer of oversight and accountability for care providers.

"Residents are often unable, uncomfortable or, in some cases, fearful to advocate for themselves. With a resident's consent, volunteers assist regional ombudsmen responding to residents' concerns through complaint investigations," according to the state ombudsman's office.

Other responsibilities include providing public education about residents' rights. And attending meetings of resident and family councils at facilities that have these groups.

In turn, this important work helps ensure that residents have the dignity and quality of life that they deserve. That's a goal everyone should share.

This is an issue that "touches all of us," said Cheryl Hennen, the state's long-term care ombudsman. The ombudsman office is a service of the Minnesota Board on Aging. The office does not act as the state's long-term care regulator but can advocate for residents, as well as investigate and help resolve complaints. There is no charge for this service.

Right now, there are just 22 certified ombudsman volunteers in 15 counties, Hennen told an editorial writer. At one time, the program had between 120-150 volunteers.

Other states are also struggling to find volunteers, Hennen said. The programs face stiff competition for volunteers' time, particularly in less populated regions. In addition, some volunteers who left during COVID didn't return. Prior to the pandemic, there were about 50 Minnesota volunteers.

Ideally, Hennen said, there would be a volunteer in every licensed Minnesota facility. In addition to the four communities listed above, there are 24 other greater Minnesota cities where there's an acute need for volunteers, including Detroit Lakes, Eveleth, Moorhead, Northfield, Fergus Falls, Faribault, Worthington, Luverne, Red Wing and Silver Bay.

Program requirements allow for a broad range of people to contribute. "Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, have reliable transportation, and enjoy working with older adults and people with disabilities," according to the ombudsman's office. They must also pass a background screen, sit for an interview and complete an initial 36 hours of orientation training.

"Volunteers must dedicate at least 6 hours every month to visiting their assigned facility. We also ask that volunteers commit to at least 1 year of service," the ombudsman office states.

Hennen emphasized that those who serve report a great deal of satisfaction from their work as an advocate. "They know how much of a difference they are making in terms of quality of life and quality of care," she said.

For more information on how to volunteer, go to Those interested may also call 651-890-6308 or email the program's volunteer coordinator at