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Ombudsman: A Long-Term Care Advocate On Your Side

Your mother seems to have adjusted to nursing home life as well as she can. But one issue pops up every time you visitóhow cold the water is in the shower. The problem has continued for a couple of months even though your mother and you have brought it up with staff several times. Now she doesnít want to shower.

People often need extra leverage to fix persistent problems at nursing homes. Each state has the man, or woman, to see. Called an ombudsman, this person makes sure problems get resolved. Ombudsmen also cover assisted living residences, board and care homes, and other places that provide long-term care. Through the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, thousands of ombudsmen are working across the country to make sure people get good care.

How Do I Find An Ombudsman?

  • Check in the nursing home. There should be a sign posted listing the ombudsmanís office and telephone number. If you canít find the sign, ask the staff.
  • Call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800- 677-1116, run by the U.S. Administration on Aging, the federal agency that oversees the Ombudsman Program. When you call, ask for the local ombudsman program that serves your area.
  • Contact the state Long-Term Care Ombudsman office, often located in the state office on aging. Look in the phone book or go to the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center. This website lets you click on your state and find the contact information you need.

What Will The Ombudsman Do? He or she is trained to investigate and resolve complaints about a nursing home or other residence. An ombudsman will:

  • Listen to the complaint and talk to the resident about it.
  • Investigate the problem.
  • Try to solve it by working with the staff.
  • Notify agencies that license and regulate the facility if needed.

Ombudsmen also furnish information about residentsí rights, how to handle issues before they become serious problems, and how to find a quality home. They answer questions about nursing home procedures, eligibility, and payment. They can also help you understand the resident contract.

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If you have a problem with your care or that of a loved one, speak up!

A Problem to Be Solved
Mrs. Smith is a nursing home resident on Medicaid. Her daughter manages her finances. The facility says they will discharge Mrs. Smith in the next few weeks because they havenít gotten paid for her care in several months. Her daughter contacts the ombudsman to investigate why Medicaid hasnít paid the home. She wants to make sure her mother can stay and get the care she needs.

What About Anonymity? An ombudsman will not mention who has made a complaint without a residentís permission. Depending on the problem, however, there might be times when itís very hard to keep the residentís identity secret. However, itís illegal for a nursing home or any facility to take any kind of negative action against a resident who files a complaint.

Be a Private Eye
Mr. Johnson lives in an assisted living residence. His son visits and notices that his fatherís dentures are missing. In fact, his father hasnít been eating much of his meals lately because he canít chew without his dentures. The dentures have been missing for two weeks, but the staff simply tells his son theyíre ďworking on it.Ē He contacts the ombudsman to investigate the situation.

How is it Funded? The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is fully funded with government dollars, so residents and their families do not have to pay for ombudsmen services. In addition to 1,000 paid ombudsmen, 8,000 certified volunteers also serve the program throughout the United States.

Speak Up! Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have a right to quality care that is free from abuse, neglect, discrimination, or retaliation. If you have a problem with your care or that of a loved one, speak up! If something doesnít seem right, it probably isnít. An ombudsman will support you, protect your and your loved one's rights, and help you get the best possible care.

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© 2003, 2004, 2007 AARP. Reprinting by permission only.

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Jerry Kasunic Long-Term Care Advocate
An ombudsman can help you and your loved one investigate and resolve issues with long-term care facilities.
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