GULF BREEZE — Gulf Breeze resident Susan Spencer received two of the nation's highest honors this week. Spencer was named as the recipient of the Northwest Ombudsman Council's Ombudsman of the Year Award and, on behalf of the President of the United States, the Silver President’s Volunteer Service Award for her commitment to strengthen our nation and communities through volunteer service.

The Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program chose to recognize Spencer who had devoted over 445 hours to protect the health, safety, welfare, and rights of long-term care residents.

Volunteers with the program advocate for the health, safety, welfare, and rights of people living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family care homes. They work with residents, family members, administrators, and others to resolve complaints and improve the quality of life in long-term care facilities.

Spencer began her journey advocating for long-term care residents two years ago while managing an engineering firm and raising a family. However she said her start was not an easy one. After her first day training in local nursing homes and assisted living facilities, she said she felt the weight of improving life for some of Florida’s most vulnerable to be too great. Spencer said she thought about quitting and felt like she could not continue training. However, she could not ignore what she had seen and experienced in the long-term care facilities. She said she decided to make a commitment to move past her discomfort to help long-term care residents in her community.

“If I don’t do it, who will?" she said.

Regional Ombudsman Manager Mike Phillips said Spencer was committed to improving the lives of these residents. 

"She began advocating for the residents at multiple troubled facilities and immediately started turning things around," Phillips said.

He said complaints decreased due largely to Spencer's dedicated advocacy, and she volunteered to help residents at even more facilities.

“At the same time, she serves as a representative on the State Long-term Care Ombudsman Council, the advisory body to the State Ombudsman," he said. "If I were in a facility and had a problem, Susan would be the person I would want to call."

Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program congratulated Spencer on receiving the recognition for her contributions to long-term care residents.

"On behalf of the Department of Elder Affairs, I want to congratulate Ms. Spencer for this recognition and thank her for her service to the community," DOEA Secretary Richard Prudom said. "Volunteers are integral to our efforts to meet the needs across our Aging Network, and Susan is truly an asset to our team."