A Chanute woman was appointed this month to a statewide position to advocate for the elderly.
The Kansas Senate approved the appointment of Camille Russell as state Long Term Care Ombudsman. She will oversee eight regional ombudsmen working with nursing homes and advocating for residents.
Russell said she has the smallest state agency within the Department of Administration. Aside from a small staff, she said she relies heavily on about 50 volunteers. She previously worked for five years as a regional ombudsman for southeast Kansas.
Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state must maintain an ombudsman program. Gov. Laura Kelly appointed Russell after other people suggested her for the position, and Russell told representatives of the governor that she would be interested.
She said the appointment process required a lot of paperwork and background checks over several months. She received approval from the full Kansas Senate after a recommendation from the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee.
Before becoming a regional ombudsman, Russell worked for the Kansas Attorney General’s office as the Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Director. She also worked for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services in Program Integrity and Compliance in Home and Community Based Services.
“It’s a role that I really, really identified that I wanted to be,” she said.
But she said she became involved with nursing home residents as early as 5 years old when she went to the facilities with her grandmother, who was a volunteer. She said she always loved learning.
“There’s nothing more humbling than for people to share their stories with you,” Russell said.
She attended Neosho County Community College and received a bachelor’s degree at Fort Hays University in Sociology and Criminal Justice.
Her family operated Chanute businesses and she started The TV Station when she was 19, which she operated with her husband for 20 years.
She was the youngest and first woman president of Chanute Country Club and served on the Chamber of Commerce board. In the 1990s when her son was 15, she became guardian of three nephews under the age of 5.
“It was a tremendous learning experience and I became much more invested in how our government and other systems operated outside the community I loved and supported and who supported me,” she said.
She said her two favorite roles have been to be a granddaughter and to be a grandmother, with this career coming in right behind. She said she likes being drafted into the role.
“It’s a service you’re absolutely honored to be drafted into,” Russell said.
Russell said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, people are becoming more aware about nursing home care, care issues in general, and about discharge rights of elderly people facing eviction from nursing homes.
She said Kansas has seen deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes at a rate of nearly 3 in every 100, far higher than the outside community.
Sufficient staffing and infection control were issues before the pandemic.
“That’s not just quantity,” she said.
People interested in volunteering can visit ombudsman.ks.gov or apply for an ombudsman position at admin.ks.gov/services/state-employment-center/sec-home