By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang Staff Writer
I asked a friend of mine how her 92-year-old mother, Sally, was doing in the assisted living facility. She told me she and her sisters noticed she wasn't as upbeat and seemed to be withdrawing from activities. They started asking their mother what was wrong, and Sally finally told them about an aide who would pinch her under her arms when she bathed her. This had been going on over the past several weeks, a couple of times a week. She was ashamed to say anything and fearful of retaliation. Sally displayed her bruises to her daughters, and they quickly made the complaint to a long-term care ombudsman. A new aide was immediately assigned to Sally, and the former aide was dismissed from her job at the facility.
A long-term care ombudsman is an advocate and a mediator for residents of nursing care facilities. They also represent customers of home-and community-based services, like home delivered meals and transportation. Under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law, "Nursing care residents should attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being and should not decline in health or well-being as a result of the way a nursing facility provides care."
In other words, residents and their families should always expect excellence.
Nursing home residents have the right to a guaranteed quality of life that promotes and enhances each resident, ensuring dignity, choice and self-determination. They have the right to be treated with consideration, respect, and dignity, and yes, they have the right - and the responsibility - to complain when the care they receive falls short of their expectations.
Sally never should have been subjected to that kind of behavior, nor should she put up with it, but many elders are reluctant to complain. Long-term care ombudsmen help residents and families understand that it is okay to speak up. An ombudsman acts to prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation. They advocate for the rights of home-care consumers and residents of long-term care facilities, and seek resolutions of problems to enhance those consumers' quality of life and care. They also may advocate on behalf of older adults with the agencies that administer Medicare, Medicaid and home-and community-based long-term care programs and services.
Residents are always in charge. They decide to what extent the ombudsman becomes involved. The first thing the ombudsman does is investigate and document the complaint. He or she then presents options for resolution to the consumer, and work with facility staff to resolve the problem. Beyond situations like Sally's where substandard care and even abuse were involved, ombudsmen also advocate a person-centered approach to meeting residents' needs and honoring their preferences. This includes advocating for choice in meals, times they awake or go to sleep, what time they eat and more aspects of daily life that many of us take for granted.
Can an ombudsman help you or a loved one?
Read more Boomerang...