Problems at the Nursing Home? Try Your Ombudsman

  • Over a period of approximately 15 years, I had five elders in a nursing facility. The shortest stay was my neighbor Joe, who only lived about six weeks after breaking his hip in a fall. The longest stay was my dad. He had a shunt put in to relieve fluid trapped by scar tissue from a WWII brain injury. The shunt worked, so the operation was “medically successful,” but, likely because of all the scar tissue, he came out of the surgery a demented man (he’d just been getting a little fuzzy from the fluid before hand, but that would have become worse). His instant dementia was, as you can imagine, horrifying. I spent ten years trying to give him some sort of quality life, but there was no way he could be cared for at home.


    The other three people, my mother-in-law, my uncle and my mom all stayed, for various reasons all related to types of dementia, several years each.


    This was a fine facility. There were some people working there that I consider gifts from God. But, even then, I knew I always needed to be aware. These people I loved could not take care of themselves. They were vulnerable and they needed an aware advocate. Any facility, no matter how good, can make a bad hire.


    So, I considered myself their advocate. And while I never needed to ask for outside assistance, I did learn what to do if that need should arise. In the time since my parents’ deaths, I’ve been writing an elder care column. During this time, I’ve gotten a number of letters from people wondering what to do if they have concerns about the care a loved one is getting in a facility.


    I tell them to, first, try talking to the floor supervisor. If this doesn’t work, try the administration. Give the facility a chance to correct a wrong, or explain why they do things the way they do. However, if you ever sense abuse or neglect, or if you get no cooperation from the facility when you do bring up a concern, you need to look farther for help.


    This is where your ombudsman comes in. The National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center on line at says:


    “The State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is authorized by the federal Older Americans Act. This act requires every state, through the Office on Aging, to create a statewide ombudsman program to ‘investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of older individuals who are residents of long term care facilities’ (including nursing homes, assisted living and board and care facilities).”


    An ombudsman is an advocate independent of the facility and the government whose job is to handle consumer complaints about government regulated agencies. Long-term care facilities are regulated by the government. Your ombudsman is the person who is there to help you.


    Your own state has a Department of Human Services and/or Department of Aging Services. They can direct you to an ombudsman. But if you go on-line to the National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center at, you can find a map and click on your state. This, in turn, will give you the information you need to contact your department of aging, your state ombudsmen and other resources. It’s very easy to use, with names, departments, phone numbers, fax numbers, Web addresses and more. From here you should have no trouble finding the right person to call or write.


    This wonderful Web site also tells about the training of Ombudsmen, talks about current issues and much more. I’m listing some information about ombudsmen and what they do. For a more complete run down, go to the site. The National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center says that:


    “In addition to their advocacy work, ombudsmen can also serve as a valuable resource for residents, families and community members. Although programs vary in the scope of their activities and in funding resources to support their work, they can offer important services. An ombudsman may be able to:


     Share information about community groups and activities available to improve life and care for nursing home residents
     Provide education on residents’ rights
     Offer advice about how to select a nursing home and answer questions about long term care facilities
     Help people find the services they need in the community instead of entering a nursing home
     Explain how nursing homes are inspected
     Provide information on and assistance with family and resident councils
     Direct residents to a local legal services program if they need legal assistance
     Provide information about current legislative and regulatory efforts in the state


    Many ombudsman programs have limited staff resources. For this reason, most local programs seek volunteers who can be trained to help visit residents, act as advocates, and monitor general facility conditions. It is important to learn about, understand, and support local and state ombudsman programs so they can maintain an effective advocacy program for residents and their representatives.”


    As you can see, you don’t need to be having problems with a facility to make use of the knowledge of an ombudsman. I learned more about them doing the research for this post. When you get time, try out the site. It’s a comforting feeling to know that we have this resource.


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Published On: February 05, 2007