My name is June Brown. I was born in November 1940 in St Louis MO. My dad was a butcher, and mother was a stay-at-home mom. I had four siblings. We lived in an average neighborhood, and we all worked hard. Everyone just seemed to share, help, and love each other. It seemed different from today’s world. I grew up with my mother telling me to be kind and to care. She always told me kindness was love. I grew up caring for people, and later in life I ended up being a caregiver for my mom and my disabled brother. His name was Jim, but we just called him Brother. Later in his life, my dad had a stroke. My sister and I took care of dad, but eventually we had to placed him in a facility. We cried when that day came.
When we placed dad into the nursing home, the staff noticed right away my sister and I were going to be frequent visitors. They always had him looking nice and clean. And then I looked around at others. Some were still in pajamas, sitting around looking like no one cared. I thought to myself, they’re taking good care of dad, but what about these other people? What’s being done for them? It made me sad, and it looked like they were being neglected.
I had a friend, Alice, who was working for VOYCE. The name of the organization back then was Long Term Care Ombudsman program. I had told her I liked what she did. She said I should come and volunteer with them, because that’s what they do. They go around and check on people at nursing homes. She first took me to a facility on Grand Ave in St Louis. It was a sad place, where a lot of poverty-stricken people lived. As I went around with her, she would ask residents what they needed, and what was going on in the nursing home. She asked me, “Do you think you’d like to do this?” I wasn’t sure if I could, but it is interesting to find out what their needs are. It’s such a sad atmosphere here. She told me to come out to the office to learn how to become an Ombudsman. The things I learned back then were simpler than things going on today. Back then, in a nursing home, you have patients who were just older men and women. Nowadays, you have a greater variety of people, more mentally ill patients. Back then it was easier in a way, you knew what they wanted. Older people wanted their meals hot and on time, and they wanted their meds. They wanted the nurses to come when they used the call bell. Things were simpler.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
After I started with VOYCE, Alice took me to the facility where I’m working now. First, I had little old ladies and older men, but as time went on mentally ill people started coming and they would be placed next door to an older person. I’d go from room to room, worried about some of the mentally ill people. I didn’t want them to come near the older women. At the time, Dementia and Schizophrenia patients came in slowly. I knew the State hospital was where they placed these patients, but those hospitals are now long gone. And that’s when they started placing them in nursing homes. I didn’t understand why.
At my facility they have three floors; one for Alzheimer patients, one for the severely mentally ill and one for the not-so-severe. They’re all lock down floors, a part of the memory care. I would always be afraid the mentally ill would attack the older people. I’m sure there were cases where this has happened. It’s kept quiet of course, because it scares people.
I became an Ombudsmen to help make things better. One time, an older resident I was working with was afraid. I asked for her to be moved to a different room. I’ve learned over the yearsif you are kind and address people with respect, they will help and will listen to you. I run errands for residents, and if they said they don’t like the menu, I go down and speak with the dietician. I check to see if this person was getting enough food, or if they could get more. The dietician checks on it. I talk with the nurses, sometimes go to the Director of Nursing. If a person is a diabetic and they want a lot of sweets and potato chips, that’s another story. It’s so hard for residents to be away from home and be hungry. People who come from their own homes are used to fixing their own food and eating what they want, at the time they want it.
Many of the residents need socks, women need undergarments. I belong to a prayer group which meets on Saturday evenings. We pray for the residents, and for the victims of poverty.
YOUR SEASONS OF LIFE WILL CHANGE
In my time, I have known poverty, and known a better life too. I went to New York in 1966. It was there I met and married a chemist. We lived well. In New York everything is expensive. You don’t really live too comfortably unless you’re very rich. Eventually, my husband and I separated, and I came back to St. Louis. New York living was difficult. When I was younger, problems came and life happened, no apologies. My ex-husband and I remain good friends.
My friends that I pray with began taking socks to residents. We’ve collected so many socks over the past couple years! Now we’re collecting women’s undergarments. I feel obligated because I see poverty, and they do need help. In the more prestigious facilities, money talks and they get what they want. It seems like poor people just aren’t listened to. This is why I’m so motivated to go. Sometimes I get disgusted after I report a matter and the issue is still there. Things like “My food is cold. I want some hot food.” A lot of little problems, plus the stealing that goes on. We don’t know if it’s the residents or the staff not being honest. We just don’t know. Sometimes I get so disgusted and I say I’m not going back. And the next week comes, I get my purse and I head back over.
The need compels me to go and help in any way that I can.Sometimes, in certain situations, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Then I think about what if I wasn’t there. What would happen? I’ve been in different situations and know I am doing the right thing. One time, there was a lady sitting in the hall and she couldn’t feed herself, so I sat next to her and I started to feed her. I didn’t know it was against the rules. I just wondered how long she had been there and how long were they going to let the food sit.
I’ve been trying to help the veterans too, I hate for them to have served their country, to end up at a place like my facility and not get the best care. Some of them are not always happy with the food they eat. They always thought life would be better when they came home. Lisa Smith is one of the directors here at VOYCE. She checks on the veterans and lets them know what new plans are available through the government. She comes out and talks to veterans and keeps them up to date.
Not all stories about nursing homes are bad stories. Not too long after I started, I met a lady, who was in her late 80’s. I’ll call her Gloria. I asked her what she needed. She said ““Honey this is the best place for me! My husband would work me so hard. He’d say “Gloria get my socks. Gloria where’s my breakfast?” I was so glad when they took me to the nursing home! So happy.”” She would say “the girls here are so nice to me. They make me breakfast. They make my bed and I can go play bingo.” It was the first time I ever heard a person so genuinely happy to be in a nursing home.
EARNING MY WINGS
I worked for the old city hospital. I was the first person to be hired at City Hospital in the Medical Records Transcription Department, transcribing operations, medical records, and discharge records. I started at 16, after graduating from high school. I wanted to go to college, but I had to work. It was a very nice experience and I learned a lot. I also experienced racism for the first time. The thing about it was, it got better as time went on. Someone had to pioneer it, so I guess it had to be me. I worked for two government agencies. One was publishing Army manuals, and the other was for the Investigations Department, where potential government employees were screened for communistic or anti-government activities. When I was in New York I worked for Catholic Charities in Brooklyn. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work, including for Rev. Larry Rice at the Holy Shelter. Every year he would host a big Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. I wanted my son Eric to know about it, so I took him there every year. My son said it made him feel poor. I said, “No honey we’re not poor. We’re going there to volunteer.” He would wait tables for the homeless. He went to St. Louis University High School (SLUH), but he didn’t want his friends to see him volunteering (kids are so sensitive!). I told him they are not going to see you volunteering, and he said ok. I told him if they take pictures, they would take pictures of sponsors and people who gave money and they won’t see him. He again said ok. When we got home one time and were watching the 10 O’clock news. We had turned on the big screen TV and who do you think was the first person I see walking across the screen? It was my son carrying a big tray! He said to me “Mom you told me..…!” I told him his friends are probably not even watching television. It was a funny moment.I taught Eric to try to give to others as much as he can. He went on to Washington University and earned a four-year degree, and then went on to Berkeley Law School, and became a lawyer. He is my only child and is very happy with his wife and two kids. My granddaughter, Haley, was accepted to Syracuse University. She wants to be an Orthopedic surgeon for athletes. My other granddaughter, Ashley, is in middle school.
Syracuse University. She wants to be an Orthopedic surgeon for athletes. My other granddaughter, Ashley, is in middle school.
WHY IS VOLUNTEERING SO IMPORTANT?
I would like to say, if more people volunteered, they’d be surprised. I think a lot of hate, bias, and racism would end. When you talk to people and get to know them, you learn about them on a personal level. You realize their lives are very similar to yours.
At the end of life, it looks like we just throw away our old people. It bothers me so much when people are placed in a nursing home and no one ever comes to see them. I heard a woman once say, “My daughter would come if she didn’t have to work.” But you know, we all have to work. No matter how much you work, you should visit your mom. On this earth it doesn’t matter what job we do, or how much money we make. We can’t take it with us. What we can take with us are the thoughts, and the memories of things we’ve done to help someone, and how we made someone else feel better. There is a blessing that comes when you meet the needs of someone else. It’s worth it to be a volunteer and to make sacrifices to help another person. VOYCE is a wonderful organization and a vehicle to make that happen!In my opinion VOYCE serves as a “lighthouse” to the cares, needs, and information to residents of nursing facilities, as well as helping all the volunteers who work there!
WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING AS AN OMBUDSMAN?
visit us at
Formerly the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
680 Craig Road, Suite 245
St. Louis, MO. 63141