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April 26, 2014

From the Office: Stay active, involved by becoming a long-term care ombudsman

By Frances Wright
The Daily Star

---- — We know that there is a direct link between volunteering and increased physical and mental health for older adults. 

Becoming a long-term care ombudsman is one option that provides an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of residents of long-term care facilities. One of our volunteers was told by the family of a resident, “It is a good thing that you do and a service that is truly needed”

So what is an ombudsman?

Ombudsman (om’ budz’ man) noun: A person who investigates complaints, reports findings, and mediates fair settlements, especially between an individual consumer and an institution or organization. (Swedish for ‘citizen advocate’).

Ombudsmen exist in many areas, including government, military, educational and business institutions, but what’s a long-term care ombudsman? A certified long-term care ombudsman is a professionally trained and certified volunteer advocate who resolves issues with long-term care facilities on behalf of residents and their families.

What does a long-term care ombudsman do?

• Resolves complaints made by or for residents of long-term care facilities.

• Educates consumers and long-term care providers about residents’ rights and good care practices.

• Promotes community involvement through volunteer opportunities.

• Provides information to the public on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and services, residents’ rights and legislative and policy issues.

• Advocates for residents’ rights and quality care in nursing homes, personal care, residential care and other long-term care facilities.

• Promotes the development of citizen organizations, family councils and resident councils.

What kinds of concerns does an ombudsman address?

• Violation of residents’ rights or dignity.

• Questions about quality of care.

• Improper transfer or discharge of patient.

• Inappropriate use of chemical or physical restraints.

• Any resident concern about quality of care or quality of life.

What are residents’ rights?

• The right of citizenship. Nursing home residents do not lose any of their rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, to religious freedom and to associate with whom they choose.

• The right to dignity. Residents of nursing homes are honored guests and have the right to be so treated.

• The right to privacy. Nursing home residents have the right to privacy whenever possible, including the right to privacy with their spouse, the right to have their medical and personal records treated in confidence, and the right to private, uncensored communication.

• The right to personal property. Nursing home residents have the right to possess and use personal property and to manage their financial affairs.

• The right to information. Nursing home residents have the right to information, including the regulations of the home and the costs for services rendered. They also have the right to participate in decisions about any treatment, including the right to refuse treatment.

• The right of freedom. Nursing home residents have the right to be free from mental or physical abuse and from physical or chemical restraint unless ordered by their physician.

• The right to care. Residents have the right to equal care, treatment and services provided by the facility without discrimination.

• The right of residence. Nursing home residents have the right to live at the home unless they violate publicized regulations. They may not be discharged without timely and proper notification to both the resident and the family or guardian.

Who can use an ombudsman’s services?

• Any resident of a nursing home, adult home or assisted living.

• Family members of a resident of the above facilities.

• Administration or staff of the facilities who have a concern regarding one of their residents.

• Any individual or citizen’s group that has a concern about a resident.

Can residents or families talk to an ombudsman in confidence?

Ombudsman are trained to resolve problems. The ombudsman can assist with complaints. However, the ombudsman must be given permission to share concerns; otherwise, these matters are kept confidential. At times, residents and families look to the ombudsman as a resource and then opt to resolve the issue themselves. Other time the ombudsman becomes actively involved, working to resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

What are some examples of situations an ombudsman may be involved in?

A resident called the local ombudsman because the nursing home recommended he not be discharged because of a skilled nursing need. The ombudsman met with the resident and developed a workable plan. With permission from the resident, the ombudsman worked with facility staff to make arrangements for needed community-based services. Once the necessary arrangements were made, the resident went home with all needs met

In another instance, the ombudsman was called in to mediate a situation between a family and the nursing home. The facility wanted to provide medication for pain management, while the family did not think it was necessary. The resident suffered from dementia and could not communicate her own wishes. 

Staff at the nursing home noted that the resident had increased socialization and participation while receiving mild pain medication. The family rejected the thought of pain management medications for fear of addiction and side effects. The ombudsman suggested a meeting with family, physician, pharmacist, facility staff and the ombudsman. The ombudsman participated as a mediator while both sides addressed concerns, feelings and information about the use of pain medication and any possible alternatives. After the meeting, the family was able to better understand the benefits of pain medication and agreed that providing it was in the best interest of their loved one. The resident was able to be comfortable, active and happy.

How do you get to be a volunteer long-term care ombudsman?

To be a certified long-term care ombudsman, it is necessary to successfully complete a 36-hour training. Trainings, which are organized by local ombudsman coordinators throughout the state, cover all aspects of being an ombudsman and call on local and state experts to provide information about the various areas covered in the training. Once an individual becomes a certified volunteer long-term care ombudsman, it is expected that they will spend time weekly in their assigned facility.

Otsego County Ombudsman Coordinator Mandy Rogers is planning such a training in conjunction with Chenango and Schoharie counties this summer, to be held at Elm Park United Methodist Church at 401 Chestnut St. in Oneonta. Mandy may be contacted at 432-9041 to register for the training or for more information. The training is not limited to Otsego County residents.

Whether through individual contact with residents or systemic advocacy, ombudsmen make a difference in the lives of residents in long-term care facilities every day. Wouldn’t you like to help make such a difference?

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.