THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Most people slow down when they reach their 70s or 80s.
Frank Charles isn’t one of them.
For roughly 20 years, the 88-year-old has spent much of his time working tirelessly on behalf of others living in long-term care facilities.
Recently, Charles received recognition for his efforts as a volunteer ombudsman, garnering both the Withlacoochee Council Ombudsman of the Year Award and the Bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work through the Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman program.
The program trains volunteers to advocate for the health, safety, welfare and rights of people living in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult family care homes.
“The satisfaction is knowing you’ve helped someone — it’s a good feeling and rewarding in itself,” said Charles, who moved to the Villages 10 years ago from his native Albany, N.Y.
“You have to be a good listener. I always ask, ‘Is there something I can do?’ ”
The retired salesman was inspired to join the volunteer program after spotting a notice 20 years ago in New York.
“I wasn’t sure what an ombudsman did, or even what the program was about, so I called to find out,” he said.
Turns out, Charles’ experiences as his wife’s full-time caregiver, and later as her advocate when he placed her in long-term care near the end of her life, made him an ideal candidate for the “job.”
“I’d done it for my wife, so I had the experience and joined the program,” he said. The couple were married for 40 years before she died in 1997.
Charles takes his duties seriously, regularly visiting the six facilities in the Villages area he’s responsible for. At each stop, he meets with residents to discuss any concerns or problems they may have, either as individuals or a group.
“We’re the front line, we give them a voice,” Charles said. “Without us, they are afraid to advocate for themselves and are not proactive.”
The octogenarian has roughly 600 to 700 people under his watch.
“I ensure things go the way they’re supposed to go,” he said. “I investigate complaints, and do some inspecting of facilities, too.”
Recently, after learning about residents who had problems banking without a state-issued ID, Charles facilitated a way for them to obtain one without waiting in long lines at a local Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office. He negotiated with facility staff to arrange for transportation and get the necessary forms to residents to fill out ahead of time.
“No specific training, instruction or experience prepared Frank for such a great advocacy,” State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Michael Milliken said. “He single-handedly worked out a solution for many residents at multiple facilities that can be applied in other areas of the state for the benefit of all residents.”
Charles remains humble about the achievement.
“Ya know, nothing is standard procedure,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to try to figure out a way to be helpful to someone.”
For now, he has no plans to quit doing what he loves.
“I hope I never have to retire from this work: I can’t go on forever — I’m 88,” he said. “But I’ll do it as long as I can, the best I can.”