On Monday, January 28, 2013, USA Today had an article about ombudsmen and their authority to look out for the health, safety and rights of elderly or disabled people living in nursing homes or assisted-living centers. The Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Program was authorized by the Older American Act of 1965 and was set up to identify, investigate and resolve complaints concerning residents in long-term care facilities. Ombudsmen are authorized to:
· Investigate and work to resolve problems or complaints affecting long-term care residents.
· Identify problem areas in long-term care and advocates for change.
· Provide information about long-term care and related services.
· Ensure that residents are receiving the legal, financial, social, rehabilitative, and other services to which they are entitled.
· Act as a mediator between residents, family members, and facility staff.
· Educate the residents, family, facility staff, and community about resident’s rights, elder abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and discharge issues.
· Coordinate efforts with other agencies concerned with long-term care.
· Visit long-term care facilities routinely to talk to residents and monitor conditions.
· Assist with the establishment of resident and family councils at facilities.
· Represent resident’s interests before state and federal government by working to change laws, regulations, and policies that affect those who live in long-term care facilities
Alabama operates its program through the Alabama Department of Senior Services. http://www.alabamaageline.gov/ltc.cfm is a helpful website to help consumers understand what ombudsmen can do and to find their contact information. In Mobile, the local ombudsman is Ivy Walker. Ms. Walker can be contacted at 110 Beauregard Street, Suite 207, Mobile, Alabama 36633, telephone number (251) 433-6541 or through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the USA Today, article not all ombudsmen are as independent or immune from politicians or industries influence as the program was designed. An example they cited concerned Brian Lee, a Florida state ombudsman. Mr. Lee was forced to resign because he began asking nursing homes to provide him with detailed corporate ownership information. The Affordable Care Act has a provision that authorizes the details of corporate ownership. However, shortly after asking nursing homes for this information, the article reports that the Governor’s office told state officials that it was time for Mr. Lee to be terminated. While the Florida officials contend that his departure was part of a normal turnover, it is interesting to note that four days after Lee was removed, the state withdrew the request for corporate ownership information. You can read more about Mr. Lee and other ombudsmen lack of independence in the USA Today article:
In 2009, I wrote a blog “Nursing Homes: Caregivers or Money Grubbers?” In that blog, the Better Business Bureau was concerned about how nursing homes were set up and how they were financing themselves. In litigation we have found that nursing home abuse and neglect often is related to corporate ownership. Those owners who are providing care and making a reasonable profits are not generally the targets of litigation. Those owners who have set up multiple entities to draw the money away from care to increase their profits are most often the ones who are not providing the care the residents deserve.
Meanwhile, if you have a loved one in a nursing home in Alabama, you should feel comfortable contacting Ms. Walker or any other ombudsman to help you address issues concerning the care your loved one is receiving.