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Long Term Care Ombudsman Program protects residents

By Mimi Pacifico
Correspondent
Thursday, June 23, 2011


Of all the visitors to the 166 long-term care nursing facilities, assisted living facilities or adult family care homes in Volusia and Flagler counties, there is no way to determine how many or how few noticed the posting of information concerning the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP). A further curiosity is how many or how few of those know what the program is or dialed the posted telephone number, 1-888- 831-0404, for assistance.

First of all, an ombudsman is a person who investigates, reports on and helps settle complaints. It represents the rights of the constituents or, in the case of the LTCOP, residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities or adult family care homes. The LTCOP function independently and objectively, apart from the healthcare providers. Their services are free. In addition to office staff, the program consists of trained and certified volunteers who investigate disputes between two residents or between a resident and the facility in which he resides.

Created under the federal Older Americans Act in 1975, each state has an office to handle, investigate and resolve complaints of this nature. According to Erica Wilson, public relations manager, Department of Elder Affairs, “The mission statement of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is to protect the health, safety, welfare, human and civil rights of residents of long term care facilities. Its volunteers identify, investigate and resolve complaints, promote the enforcement of laws and regulations and recommend policy to state and federal governments on long-term care issues.”

There are 7,327 beds available for occupancy in the facilities under their jurisdiction, she said.

Bryan Morgan, district ombudsman manager for Volusia and Flagler counties, reports 10 active volunteers handle a minimum of 12-15 caseloads a month. He supervises an office staff of two in addition to the volunteers.

Monthly meetings, held 10 a.m. the second Wednesday each month at 210 N. Palmetto St., Daytona Beach, are for the purpose of training volunteers and are open to the public.

A state council of district representatives meets quarterly and sometimes has issues to bring before the state legislature.

“We try to do something special in October to observe Residents Rights Month,’’ Morgan said.

In April, volunteer month, the district council votes on an Ombudsman of the Year. In 2010 Kathryn Kabath was awarded this honor. The choice is based on investigation and assessments conducted, training hours and council meetings attended, exceeding minimum requirements, getting results, compassion for the residents, and effectively carrying out the program of the LTCOP.

“Volunteers conduct an annual assessment of all the long-term residences through the eyes of the residents,’’ Morgan said. “We need more volunteers. My biggest concern is letting residents of these facilities know they have direct access to our services,” he said. “The facilities in which they are living are their own homes and the resident deserves to be respected and treated with dignity. We want to be sure the resident’s rights are being honored and they know what their rights are.”

According to Morgan, an ombudsman must have the consent of the resident to do an investigation.

“Sometimes a family member reports a dispute, but when we get to the resident to verify the problem, he says there is none.”

One local volunteer is Leonard Dills, 68, who usually works four or five cases in a month.

“We are given a week from the date the dispute comes to our office and 60 days to resolve it,’’ he said. “Some cases take longer to solve. If we are unable to resolve it, we refer it to a higher authority. We follow through until it is resolved.”

Some of the types of cases the volunteers deal with are missing personal items, failure to pay, room changes without notifications and medication administration.

—Contact this writer at merimac2005@gmail.com