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Stories

Born Caregivers: A Conversation with Long-Term Care Ombudsman Volunteer Karen Lavallee and Charlene Manor Residents' Council Head Sharon Andrews

Karen Lavallee and Sharon AndrewsKaren Lavallee and Sharon Andrews“I think some people are born in life to do certain things and I think I was a born caregiver.  It’s something I always thought of doing. I knew that once I retired this is what I’d want to do.  Four years ago when my husband got injured I was taking care of him, getting him back on his feet.  And then last year he was doing well enough, and I thought it was time to do something for me.”

For Karen Lavallee, 69, volunteer Long-Term Care Ombudsman, doing something for herself meant taking care of others:  “Even though I’m doing it for other people, I’m taking care of them for myself because I really enjoy it and think I’m a good advocate because I’ve had so much experience advocating for my mom and dad, my first husband who had MS, and my present husband who is disabled.  I also have worked in home care for about 27 years. So when I retired from my day job and my husband became more stable I decided to give it a go.”

“You will be rewarded tenfold when you help someone solve an issue.”

Karen, an Ashfield resident, has been a Long-Term Care Ombudsman since last October, after reading about it in The Good Life.  She visits Charlene Manor in Greenfield and Labelle’s Rest Home in Shelburne Falls.  “I visit once a week at both places; that is the commitment.  Sometimes more if there is an issue to deal with,” she says.  The visits are around an hour and a half to two hours long, and Karen visits at different times and days of the week and varies what floors she starts on.  

“My favorite part is just visiting people, getting to know about their lives, what brought them here.  Helping to make sure they are getting their needs met, especially the residents that don’t have families to advocate for them.  That’s the important part for me. You need a voice, doing home care and the experiences of hospitalizations and rehabs that my family members have had has taught me that,” says Karen.  As we are talking in the lobby of Charlene Manor, Karen sees a man walk in and greets him by name, asking how his dad (a resident) is doing.

When an issue is brought to Long-Term Care Ombudsman Karen’s attention, she reports it to Trevor Boeding, LifePath’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman and Rides for Health Director.  “Working with Trevor is fun.  He’s really dedicated and knowledgeable about this program, and he’s always just an email or call away for any questions or concerns that may come up,” states Karen.

Sharon Andrews, 74, a resident of Charlene Manor for the last five years, also acts as a voice for fellow residents in her capacity as the head of the Residents’ Council.  She has held this position for about a year.  “Residents can appear before the Residents’ Council and talk about things they don’t like.  My job is to contact the right people and make sure that things are taken care of,”  says Sharon, who brings residents’ concerns to the administrator at Charlene Manor.

“I live here. And I get to see what’s going on.  And I have opinions myself as to how things should be.  And I go around and I talk to the people,” says Sharon.  Sharon makes sure to reassure people that whatever they tell her will be addressed, although she can’t promise a particular outcome.  “A lot of them are very shy about speaking up,” she adds.  “I tell them there isn’t anything that they can’t talk about. There will be no retribution at all.”

Before moving to Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility, Sharon lived many different places, including Arizona and Montreal.  She worked for hospitals and doctors, and then went into auditing before starting her own auditing company.  In addition, she took care of her parents for twenty years.  She has also been an organist at her church, Our Lady of Czestochowa in Turners Falls, for twenty-five years and is the choir director.  “I sing in Polish but I have no idea what I’m singing.  I ask the priests if I chose Christmas music for Easter,” jokes Sharon.  Sharon has two children, three grandchildren, and five great-grandsons. She visits her daughter in Greenfield every Sunday for a family gathering.

Karen’s life is also very full.  “Even though I’m retired I still work in home care, and take care of my husband, so I am a busy gal, but this work is just for me and makes me feel good,” states Karen.  “Doing this volunteer work is so rewarding for me.”  Karen also has two sons and five grandchildren.

When asked what she would tell someone interested in volunteering as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Karen responds, “I would say make sure this is something you will stick with because the residents rely on you.”  She adds, “You will be rewarded tenfold when you help someone solve an issue.”

“The Ombudsman program is watching our backs,” states Sharon, who makes sure she introduces herself to new residents and invites them to breakfast.  Sharon’s lost four roommates in almost five years.  “Every roommate was so special and I loved them all,” states Sharon.  This helps inspire her to get to know who’s alone and who is hurting.  She continues, “This is my family. I just know everybody.”

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program will be holding a three day training on October 16, 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; October 17, 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; and October 18, 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; in Northampton.  For more information and to register, please contact Trevor Boeding at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via phone at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, Ext. 2241.