When the city of Fostoria decided to change its form of government to a charter, the Good Shepherd Home League of Voters decided to hold a forum to educate themselves on exactly what this form of government would entail. As it turned out, the forum not only educated its continuing care retirement community of 170 nursing home, assisted living, and independent living residents, but also those in attendance from the greater community of Fostoria. Now that the two newspapers in this Ohio city have begun covering the forums and with a local radio talk show program broadcasting from the forums, the resident-run league of voters is helping to politically enlighten the city of Fostoria.
But the League was and still is intended for the residents' and the home's well-being. “They do not conduct open forums similar to other leagues; this is for their education and their use,” explains Executive Director Chris Widman, LNHA. “Although they won't say people can't come, they don't invite the public to attend the forums. The purpose is to ensure they are educated voters.”
About 20 to 30 residents are involved in the League of Voters, which started in 2004. The group has invited proponents of issues to explain their views, mayoral candidates to speak about their political platform, and state representatives to listen to the issues important to the Good Shepherd Home. The League is taken seriously and is well attended by candidates running for such offices as city council, mayor, U.S. representative, state representative, governor, and state senator. The candidates are aware that the home has a lot of registered voters who are active in the election process, says Widman. “The residents want to hear from them, and the candidates also realize that our residents are going to hold them accountable for what they do.”
With a population of about 14,000, Fostoria is not a large community, and therefore Widman believes that the Good Shepherd Home residents are influential when they share their issues of importance with mayoral candidates and let them know that they'll be voting. “That gets the ear of these candidates, and so down the road when issues come up the candidates respond to our residents, especially after they're elected. There are enough votes here that people take us seriously,” Widman says.
Candidates have commented that they attend other forums where often the candidates outnumber the people in attendance. “That is never the case when they come to our forums, because the residents are engaged. It's their group. They are very interested in what these candidates have to say, and they want to know how what they'll do will impact them as individuals and the Good Shepherd Home as an organization,” says Widman.
The League is bipartisan, but it does not focus so much on party lines as it does on advocating for senior services and the Good Shepherd Home in general. “Residents want to make sure the home is treated fairly. And they want to make sure that reimbursement remains competitive,” Widman says. For example, the residents have shared with their state representative, Jeff Wagner, the need for continued support for the Medicaid funding system. In 2005, Ohio lawmakers were considering an Assisted Living Medicaid Waiver, which would pay the costs of care in an assisted living facility for certain people on Medicaid, allowing the consumer to use his or her resources to cover room and board expenses. “Of course, when you take a look at Medicaid, the state controls a large portion of our revenue,” says Widman. The Good Shepherd Home residents and staff made it clear to their state representatives that they felt that the program would be something beneficial to seniors and the Good Shepherd Home, which subsequently became the first facility in Ohio to admit someone under the waiver program.
Another important function the League of Voters provides has to do with Fostoria's unique political geography. The city sits on three counties: Hancock, Wood, and Seneca. The Good Shepherd Home is built in Seneca County. Through the League, former Hancock and Wood residents can learn about their new representatives. “Just moving a few blocks from where you were registered, now all of the sudden you're voting for different people,” says Rachel Holman, who is in charge of community outreach at Good Shepherd. She says because of Fostoria's placement, politics can be even more confusing. “So I think it [the League] has been very good for our residents to be introduced to candidates and learn about their views.”
The League also concentrates on voter registration efforts within the Good Shepherd campus. “Many of our residents vote absentee, but many others vote at the polls. The Good Shepherd Home is a poll site, so that makes it a little more accessible for our residents to vote on Election Day,” Widman says.
“A lot of these people have voted all their lives, and they're able to continue that right,” says Administrative Assistant Crystal Macias. “They want their candidates to know that they're here and they're voting, and they're concerned about the issues, and they want the education.”