What Is the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program?

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an umbrella term for federally-funded, state-run programs created by an amendment to the Older Americans Act.

Each state has a long-term care ombudsperson agency. They are tasked with preserving resident rights. This includes investigating and resolving complaints on behalf of residents of:

  • Nursing facilities
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Board and care facilities
  • Other adult care homes

Ombudspersons also serve as advocates for adult care residents before government agencies and aging and health organizations.

The Purpose of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

In 1972, the federal government funded demonstration ombudsperson programs in five states. In 1978, the federal government required all states to implement ombudsman programs with defined functions and responsibilities.

The functions and responsibilities include:

  • Identifying, investigating, and resolving complaints made by adult care residents against long-term care providers and public agencies
  • Informing residents of their rights and how to seek help
  • Investigating quality of care for residents of long-term care facilities
  • Representing the interests of residents before government agencies and other organizations
  • Seeking administrative, legal, and other remedies to protect residents' health, safety, welfare, and rights
  • Monitoring and analyzing laws, regulations, and other government policies that affect the health, safety, welfare, and rights of adult care residents
  • Gaining access to long-term care facilities and residents' records
  • Maintaining the confidentiality of those records

Ombudspeople Investigations of Complaints

The Administration on Aging is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This administration works to carry out the OOA's laws and requirements.

They keep track of ombudsperson investigations, complaints filed by adult care residents, and resolutions to the complainant. Ombudsperson program staff or volunteers also visit care facilities. In 2017 they visited 68% of all nursing homes and 30% of all board and care facilities in the U.S.

The most common resident complaints involve the following:

  • Wrongful eviction
  • Unanswered requests for assistance
  • Lack of respect shown to residents
  • Poor quality of life in a care facility
  • Issues with medication

Ombudspeople as Advocates

The Older Americans Act specifically requires long-term care ombudspersons to act as advocates  for adult care residents.

Common forms of advocacy include:

  • Procedural advocacy: State ombudsman programs coordinate with each other and with other government agencies to better respond to residents' needs.
  • Issue Advocacy: Ombudsman programs identify trends in residents' complaints to notify government agencies, care facilities, and the public of these trending concerns.
  • Legislative advocacy: Ombudsmen analyze and comment on local, state, and federal laws and regulations on behalf of adult care residents.

Ombudsperson Independence and Controversies

A key aspect of long-term care ombudsperson programs is their independence and ability to act on behalf of adult care residents without interference.

Typically, ombudsperson programs are housed within a state's Department of Aging. In the past few years, there have been many controversies concerning the independence of ombudsman programs.

In 2011, Florida's governor allegedly forced the resignation of the state's long-term care ombudsman due to a contentious relationship between the two. This led to a state Senate hearing and a federal Administration on Aging investigation.

In 2012, California passed a law strengthening the independence of the state's ombudspersons. This law was due to complaints of an inability to clash with the governor's or other state officials' views.

The change in the law requires California's ombudsperson program to:

  • Develop an annual advocacy report
  • Reestablish an inactive advocacy council
  • Maintain an updated website for adult care residents

Getting Help

You can find contact information for your state's ombudsperson program. In addition, signs should be posted at adult care facilities providing the contact information for the state ombudsperson.

If you have questions regarding your rights under the Older Americans Act, you should consult with an older adult law attorney.

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