Today more than 160,000 Floridians live in nursing homes or similar long-term care settings, and many are unaware of their rights and the resources available to protect and defend them.
Every October, Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program partners with the Office of the Governor to proclaim Residents' Rights Month. The occasion calls attention to the fundamental rights of Florida's frailest elders to be treated with dignity and respect, and to have a say in decisions affecting their care.
Long-term care residents have state-mandated rights, including fair and courteous treatment, privacy, and control over financial matters and - of particular note this year - the right to vote.
The ombudsman program is a government-funded resource available to help defend residents' rights and ensure their safety and well-being. Sadly, a volunteer ombudsman is sometimes the only visitor or voice a resident has.
As Florida celebrates Residents' Rights Month, I encourage community members to visit someone they know in an assisted living facility, volunteer in a nursing home, participate in Residents' Rights Month events, or inquire about volunteering with the ombudsman program.
Our parents, grandparents, veterans, former doctors and teachers need to know they have not been forgotten.
For information on Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which is administered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, please call toll-free 1-888-831-0404 or visit us on the web at http://ombudsman.myflorida.com. We can improve the lives of these citizens who have given so much to us. It's time to give back.
The writer is the state's Long-Term Care ombudsman. He is based in Tallahassee.