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Profiles in Service: Department of Aging Staff Recognized for Efforts to Help Nursing Home Residents Connect with Loved Ones


Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration and the Department of Aging today recognized the State Office of Long-Term Ombudsman and other Aging staff for going above and beyond during the pandemic to help older adult residents of nursing homes connect with loved ones and the outside world.  

The Ombudsman office supports and empowers consumers by resolving individual complaints involving long-term care service while working to improve and enhance the long-term living system for the residents and their families. The office has a ground force of 273 local ombudsmen in communities across Pennsylvania, advocating and empowering on a case-by-case basis to resolve complaints and issues.  

Carolyn Tenaglia, Regional Ombudsman Specialist in Schuylkill County, was recognized for spearheading the development and launch of the Virtual Family Council (VFC), a statewide social media resource for family and friends who are unable to see loved ones living in long-term care facilities because of the pandemic.  

Launched in May 2020, the VFC helps family members who may be struggling with changes in visitation protocol, rights and policies. The program offers weekly online meetings with a local ombudsman facilitating, along with a team of 10 local experts in attendance. Anyone can participate and ask questions, share concerns, or just listen to learn and gather information. The meetings do not address specific issues regarding a resident or a facility. The program has drawn hundreds of participants and has served as a model for other state efforts.  

Tenaglia began her 20-year ombudsman career as a local ombudsman for Schuylkill County and became a Regional Ombudsman in 2005.  

The Wolf Administration and the Department of Aging also recognized the group of Regional Ombudsman Specialists and local ombudsmen who have assisted in the development of content for the VFC and also provide support for each meeting. These include:

Becky Fortenbaugh, program manager; Kim Shelter, regional ombudsman specialist; Kandy Schreffler, regional ombudsman specialist; Jamie Rose, regional ombudsman specialist; Jamie Schell, local ombudsman for Lancaster County; Cori Hurley, local ombudsman for Dauphin County; Kate Wilson Paris, Megan Manney-Thomas and Winnie Backlund, local ombudsmen for Montgomery County; Carol Dieffenbach, local ombudsman for Bradford-Sullivan-Susquehanna-Tioga County ; Linda Korgeski, local ombudsman for Lackawanna County;  Bernadette Jones, local ombudsman for Monroe County; Gloria Eshelman, local ombudsman for Cambria County; Debbi Gressley, local ombudsman for Indiana County; and Jeanne Urban, local ombudsman for Clearfield County. 

"Our department is very proud to highlight the efforts of our Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman who went above and beyond to support families of long-term care residents. Throughout the COVID-19 emergency, ombudsmen have worked with nursing homes to develop connections in accordance with a family's needs and a facility's procedures and capabilities," said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. "Their compassion, tenacity, and creative approach to problem-solving has made a difference for long-term care residents and their families and has helped us all chart a path for innovative visitation and communication practices moving forward."  

"The Virtual Family Council is grassroots systems advocacy that is designed to navigate a virtual world," said State Long-Term Ombudsman Margaret Barajas. "During this challenging, isolating time for residents, the Council has also shone a loving light on the key role that compassionate caregivers play in quality of care for residents. Carolyn and ombudsmen in communities throughout Pennsylvania, along with volunteers and family members, have been the heart and soul of this effort. They are champions of resident-focused care and advocacy."  

The Wolf Administration also recognized Glenda Ebersole, Policy Director at the department, for initiating an idea to partner with AARP to help combat social isolation of older adults in nursing homes by increasing access to personal technology. AARP helped fund the initiative, and Barajas and her ombudsman team were recognized for going above and beyond to quickly coordinate and distribute more than 100 activated cellphones and tablets to 46 targeted nursing homes. The partnership utilized Ombudsman's PEERs (Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents), Resident Councils and other resident leaders and nursing home activities directors to support the residents.  

To get VFC connection information, email and in the subject line, indicate Virtual Family Council.  

Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health's dedicated Coronavirus webpage here for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19. Learn more about the various programs offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging here.


Karen Gray, Aging,
Dan Egan, OA,  


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