Ron Thiltgen spent nearly half of his life working in the nursing home industry, so when he retired and was looking for something to do — he naturally gravitated to an avenue where he thought he could do some good.
He decided to volunteer for the Florida Ombudsman Program.
Thiltgen, who lives in Lutz, has devoted the past three years as a volunteer advocating for quality long-term care for people living in assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout Hillsborough County.
Recently, he was declared winner of the West Central Council Ombudsman of the Year.
In making the selection, the council noted the 66-year-old’s patience and care for residents, and his ability to get results, according to a news release. He was also lauded for being an excellent mentor for fellow volunteers.
Thiltgen was delighted by the honor.
“It’s nice to be recognized. It feels good when someone appreciates you,” Thiltgen said. He also likes the work. “It’s enjoyable,” he said.
He worked in maintenance for decades, taking care of assorted chores and repairing sinks, toilets and other things.
“I had a lot of contact with people. They had problems. They didn’t know how to get solutions to them,” Thiltgen said.
He likes being able to help people who live in assisted care facilities or nursing homes who feel isolated and need help. He generally spends a couple of hours a week volunteering, but sometimes more, depending on the problem he’s trying to get resolved.
Many people living in assisted living and nursing facilities don’t have family nearby, he observed. “They don’t have anybody to turn to,” he said.
“Ombudsmen, we’re able to make contact with them and try to guide them to wherever they can find resolutions,” Thiltgen said.
In one instance, he helped a resident when her wheelchair broke and she was unable to get around.
“We were able to resolve that,” he said.
Many problems can be solved by better communication, he said. But, some problems are more serious, in which case, the resident is referred to other organizations or agencies that can help, he said.
While a resident’s problem may seem small to an outsider, it can become a source of frustration, he said.
“The seniors, they get stressed out,” the former maintenance worker said.
There are about 20 volunteers providing ombudsman services in Hillsborough County, he said, including those from all walks of life. There are retirees, like himself, but also people who still hold paying jobs.
It’s a satisfying feeling to help those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, he said.
“Everybody ends up happy. It feels great,” he said.
Published September 21, 2016