Ombudsman: Your Front Line Advocate

Unanswered calls for help, improper medication administration, discharge or eviction without a proper notice, lack of respect for residents—these are examples of complaints that may be made by residents of nursing and other residential care facilities to state and local long-term care Ombudsmen. The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is a consumer advocacy model intended to improve quality of care by helping residents of nursing homes and other residential care facilities resolve complaints about their care and rights. It was established as part of the Older Americans Act in 1978.

The word “Ombudsman” is a Swedish term that means citizen representative. The Blair County Ombudsman serves as an advocate for the rights of all residents in personal care homes, nursing homes/long term care facilities, domiciliary care homes and adult day centers. The Blair County Ombudsman serves 43 facilities within Blair County that includes a total of 2,320 beds within the homes.

Jaime Rose is the Blair County Long Term Care Ombudsman.  She states, “The Ombudsman Program’s vision statement is ‘Advocate for those who can’t, support those who can, and ensure all long-term care consumers live with dignity and respect.’  I am responsible for resolving the problems of residents of nursing homes and residential care facilities. The Ombudsman provides an avenue for conflict resolution that may be otherwise unavailable to all residents.  We strive to ensure dignity, choice and quality of life for all individuals in long term care.  We can be their voice.  No problem or concern is too small. Complaints can include: improper food temperatures, daily routine times, missing belongings or problems with staff or other residents. The Ombudsman will help to resolve the issue with the resident’s consent to pursue the complaint or concern.”

A key to the Ombudsman function is regular facility and resident visitation by the Ombudsman and volunteer Ombudsmen. The Ombudsman Program will have unannounced quarterly visits to each facility. This alone helps to ensure quality of living.

Through their visits, Ombudsmen can act as an impartial third-party regarding quality of care and resident rights issues. Their interactions and familiarity with residents can provide a working relationship between residents and staff members. This can benefit both parties to ensure best practices. (Although, we cannot comment to staff without the consent of the residents). Their visits to facilities may also act as a deterrent to issues negatively affecting the quality of care and the lives of residents and prevent the need for costly interventions by state officials later.

Ombudsman availability in facilities can assist residents and family members in knowing the complaint process, how and when to report concerns about quality of care, and making reports promptly.

Ombudsmen stress the importance of their role as representatives of the community in facilities and the personal connection that they have with residents. Some describe the visible presence of Ombudsmen as crucial in assisting older people who are too frail or afraid to draw attention to problems with their care. Because many nursing home residents do not have informal support systems or families and friends who visit regularly, an independent advocate can play a critical role in helping residents with their care and rights.

Although investigation and resolution of complaints are their primary responsibilities, Ombudsmen also have other roles, such as educating residents and families about resident rights and acting as mediators between residents, facility staff and government agencies.  They may also assist residents who are making the transition if their facility closes and ensuring they are comfortable in their new home.

“Our job is to empower the residents to help themselves. We do a lot of education and training with the residents on their rights at the facilities.  An example is the Resident Rights Bingo we organize. The residents come to a bingo game we have at their facility that highlights their rights and assists to educate them.  They can win prizes just like in regular bingo games. This activity is received quite well with the residents of the different facilities and is a wonderful tool in educating them of their rights,” states Jaime Rose.

Along with the paid Ombudsman, the program relies heavily on volunteers.  Rose says, “Our program is unique because we have 9 volunteers that help us.  These volunteers help with visits to the facility, do paperwork and will report back when they notice something is wrong.  We could not do all that we do in this program without the help and dedication of these great volunteers.”

Another part of the Ombudsman Program is the PEER Program.  PEER stands for “Pennsylvania’s Empowered Expert Resident.”  A PEER is a long term care resident who is trained to advocate for themselves to improve the quality of their own lives and the home they live in.

The program begins with a training course during which residents learn about the laws, licensing and regulations governing nursing homes and assisted living residences both in the state and nationally.  It also teaches resolution steps and how to present their issues to the administration of a facility, the function of the Ombudsman, and more.

“Among the responsibilities of the PEER is to orient new residents to the facility, learn the proper personnel to contact for particular concerns, letting people know their rights, and being their support system,” explained Rose.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the Ombudsman Program or perhaps would be interested in volunteering for the program, please contact Jaime Rose at 814-296-6336.