(Editors: This is the fourth and final in a series of releases about Older Americans that will be sent during May. Today’s release features the Long-Term Care Ombudsmen program.)
Frankfort, KY (May 26, 2004) - If you live in a long-term care facility or know someone who lives in one, there may be times when you need help with solving problems or addressing concerns. The Long-Term Care Ombudsmen stand ready and willing to assist you. They perform invaluable work with residents and their families to resolve complaints or provide information and other assistance.
Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an ombudsman program that deals with complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system. Some of the key functions of the long-term care ombudsman program are to:
· Identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents;
· Provide information to residents about long-term care services and their rights; and
· Advocate for changes to improve residents’ quality of life and care.
As part of Kentucky’s Office of Aging Services, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program serves as a resource for individuals, who are living in or need the services of a nursing home or other long-term care facility, and their families. “Ombudsmen inform residents about their rights and empower residents and family members to address issues on their own,” says John Sammons, Kentucky’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman. “They provide information and guidance on how certain situations may be handled, and if consent is given, the ombudsman can also intervene on behalf of the resident.”
Ombudsmen maintain strict confidentiality, which provides protection for individuals who log complaints with the program. Many of the complaints received through the ombudsman program are for non-life threatening issues, such as lost or stolen items, but can involve situations of gross abuse or neglect. “Every complaint deserves and receives equal attention from ombudsmen,” says Sammons. “When individuals are in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, they should receive services to make them as comfortable as possible and the quality of their lives should not diminish.”
Local ombudsman programs are operated, under the direction of the state program, in each of Kentucky’s 15 designated Area Agencies on Aging. The local ombudsman programs provide direct services to residents, and among other things, take action to ensure the rights and improve the well being of residents, facilitate the ability of the public to comment on and provide support for improved care, and recruit volunteers to visit residents and, if certified, help residents resolve problems.
Local ombudsmen are involved in a variety of community activities that support the care of individuals in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. One example is the involvement of the local Green River District Ombudsman in designing and carrying out the Alzheimer’s Wandering and Rescue Education (AWARE) Program. AWARE’s objective is to address the issue of the potential for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease to wander from their homes or from the facility where they reside. Through AWARE, an education program for police officers, fire departments, and state troopers was created to assist in the search and rescue of these individuals. The program also provides information to caregivers, health care agencies, and nursing facilities.
This program exemplifies regional cooperation and coordination, underscoring that key public, private, and nonprofit partners must be in place to ensure successful program. For instance, the Green River Area Development District Area Agency on Aging in Owensboro works with their ombudsman and family caregiver support programs, Wellington Parc Nursing Facility, Daviess County Emergency Management Agency, and Search and Rescue Area 3. All of the partners give their time and expertise to assist each other and the community in addressing the Alzheimer’s issues including sharing search and rescue techniques.
Within the first six-months of the AWARE program, approximately 400 people were trained. They are continuing to improve the program and are willing to share the training manual that was created by AWARE with other regions.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program has approximately 120 certified volunteers and over 300 friendly visitors statewide to assist paid ombudsmen in reaching, and, in some cases, helping residents with complaint resolutions. Each local program also has an advisory council, made up of volunteers from the community, to review and advise the program, provide ongoing support and leadership, and help generate resources for program viability. Volunteers are an integral part of the success of the ombudsman program.
“Our focus on residents’ rights provides a vital link to quality of life and care for nearly 35,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in this state. By our regular presence, trust develops between the residents and the ombudsman. The residents know someone is there to speak up for them,” said Sammons.
For additional information on obtaining assistance or volunteering, visit http://www.chs.ky.gov/Aging/programs/ or call the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office at 1-800-372-2991.