The Older Americans Act created a program called the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, which includes state-run programs that are federally funded. Every state has a long-term care ombudsman agency that receives, investigates, and resolves complaints it receives from nursing home residents, residents of board and care facilities, and other adult care facilities. The ombudsmen also advocate for adult care residences with health organizations, aging organizations, and government agencies. Elder Care Direction is familiar with how the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program works, and we can provide guidance to nursing home residents and their families about submitting complaints to their state programs.
What is the purpose of the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program?
The federal government started ombudsman programs in five states in 1972. In 1978, the government mandated that all of the remaining states create their own ombudsman programs. All of these programs have certain responsibilities and functions, including the following:
- Receiving and resolving complaints it receives by residents of adult care facilities and investigating the complaints that are received
- Informing adult care residents of the rights that they have and how they can seek help
- Advocating on behalf of adult care residences before governmental agencies and other organizations
- Looking for legal, administrative, and other solutions to protect the health, rights, welfare, and safety of adult care residents
- Analyzing regulations, laws, and government policies that affect the rights, welfare, safety, and health of long-term care residents
- Accessing the records of long-term care facilities and of adult care residents while maintaining their confidentiality at all times
What are ombudsman investigations?
The Administration on Aging, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that more than 190,000 complaints from adult care residents were investigated by ombudsmen in the U.S. in 2013. Among the complaints, the AOA reports that 73% were satisfactorily resolved. Staff and volunteers of the ombudsmen programs visited 29% of all board and care homes and 70% of all nursing homes in the U.S.
According to the AOA, the most frequent complaints from adult care residents included the following:
- Wrongfully being evicted
- Failure to answer requests for help
- Failure to respect adult care residents
- Poor quality of life in the facilities
- Problems with medication
How ombudsmen advocate for adult care residents
Under the Older Americans Act, long-term care ombudsmen must advocate for the residents of adult care facilities. Some of the common types of advocacy that ombudsmen engage in for residents include the following:
- Advocating to improve the coordination with other agencies to make certain that procedures to respond to residents’ needs are improved
- The identification of trends in complaints so that the ombudsmen can notify agencies, the public, and care facilities about trending issues
- Analyzing and commenting on state, local, and federal laws and regulations on behalf of the residents of long-term care facilities
The independence of ombudsmen and controversies
Long-term care ombudsman programs are supposed to be independent and to have the ability to act without interference on behalf of the residents of adult care facilities. In most cases, these programs are within each state’s department of aging. According to the National Association of State Long-term Care Ombudsman Programs, 42% of ombudsmen who responded to a 2007 survey reported that their activities and advocacy for adult care residents were interfered with by their states’ department of aging. Numerous controversies about ombudsman programs and their independence have arisen over the last few years.
In one example, the governor of Florida had a contentious relationship with the state’s long-term care ombudsman and forced his resignation in 2011. This action resulted in a hearing in the state senate and an investigation by the federal Administration on Aging.
California passed a law in 2012 that strengthened the ability of the state’s ombudsmen to act independently. The law came after the ombudsmen complained that they were not allowed to take views that did not mesh with the views of the governor and with other state officials. This law required the state’s ombudsman program to release an annual advocacy report, to reestablish an advocacy council, and to keep an updated website that adult care residents can access.
Learn about the state ombudsman program
Elder Care Direction can provide you with information about how you can get into contact with your state’s program. Adult care facilities should also have signs that provide the state ombudsman’s contact information. Elder Care Direction can help you to understand your rights and those of your elderly loved one. If his or her rights under the Older Americans Act have been violated, a complaint can be submitted to the ombudsman program for investigation. You might also want to get help from an elder law attorney. Contact Elder Care Direction today to learn more and to schedule an appointment.