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Ombudsmen: front-line advocates for nursing home residents

Disagreements with a nursing home can arise regarding any number of topics, including the quality of food, troublesome roommates, lack of privacy, and services that are less than what was promised. Many disputes can be resolved by speaking with a nursing home staff member or supervisor, or moving up the chain of command. But if you can’t resolve things within the nursing home, your next step should be to contact the local ombudsman assigned to the nursing home.

An ombudsman is an advocate for residents of nursing homes, board-and-care homes, and assisted living facilities who is trained to resolve problems. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an ombudsman program that addresses residents’ complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system.  While ombudsmen do not have direct authority to require action by a facility, they have the responsibility to negotiate on a resident’s behalf and to work with other state agencies for effective enforcement.

Most statewide programs are composed of several regional or local ombudsman programs that operate within an Agency on Aging or other community organization. To find the ombudsman nearest you, contact the ombudsman office in your state, which can be found by going to: www.ltcombudsman.org/static_pages/ombudsmen.cfm.

In addition to resolving complaints, ombudsmen may provide information about how to select a nursing home, answer questions about long-term care facilities, help people find the services they need in the community instead of entering a nursing home, and provide education on residents’ rights. Most state ombudsman programs publish annual reports about the problems and concerns they address. To learn more about the ombudsman program, visit the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center at www.ltcombudsman.org/default.cfm.

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