If family members have questions about regulations or concerns about mistreatment, and safety of their loved one while in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, an ombudsman can help. Ombudsman means “one who speaks on another’s behalf.” The ombudsman is an independent, neutral, and objective advocate for residents who live in skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities for the elderly. They focus on protecting an individual’s rights to ensure the residents benefit from relevant laws and regulations.
The California State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is authorized by the federal Older Americans Act and its State companion, the Older Californians Act. Ombudsmen play many roles. Ombudsmen will investigate complaints made by residents, family members, or staff regarding questions or concerns about quality of care, or suspected neglect, or physical, mental, or emotional abuse. They can also assist in cases where financial abuse is suspected. They are required by law to report elder abuse.
Ombudsmen can also act as mediators or observers. If a family member requests their support the ombudsman can attend a resident care plan meeting. They can also attend resident or family council meetings. Ombudsmen can also assist families understand the billing and itemized charges of care. If family members are unable to receive a satisfactory explanation from a facility, an ombudsman can request additional explanation. Similarly, if families have questions about their loved one being transferred or discharged, which may violate the resident’s rights, ombudsmen can help intervene.
Since they are a neutral third party, ombudsmen can act as witnesses for the signing of Advance Health Care Directives. Advance Health Care Directives must be witnessed by an Ombudsman when the resident is in a Skilled Nursing Facility. Ombudsmen do not witness Advance Health Care Directives for residents in assisted living. Ombudsman can also assist residents and their families with referrals to community resources. The Valley Caregiver Resource Center answers questions regarding support for family caregivers and residents.
Ombudsmen can also help resolve resident care concerns. Resident care concerns focus on the manner of care delivery. A resident may be handled in a rough manner, or the staff may have a poor attitude. This may be reflected by not treating residents with dignity and not respecting privacy. Lack of activities, especially in smaller facilities may be a concern. Unappetizing food choices, and lack of variety many also affect health and be a concern. Staff neglect includes under staffing, or not answering the call button for help. Sometimes there are concerns regarding medications. Medication issues can include concerns of side effects and adverse effects from prescription medications. In smaller facilities there may be concerns about how the medication is administered.
Family members may also express concerns regarding facility maintenance not meeting safety standards. Ongoing facility maintenance concerns, such as slippery flooring, cracks in the sidewalk, poor lighting, or poor plumbing, all pose safety hazards and are commonly reported.
The services of ombudsmen are private and confidential. In order to review a resident’s file the ombudsman must first document consent with the resident, conservator, or the resident’s agent. If a referral for services is necessary, consent must also be documented.
Ombudsmen are not emergency services. They do not provide 24/7 coverage. Fresno ombudsmen also serve the Madera area. To contact an ombudsman in the Fresno and Madera area call (559) 224-9177.
For emergencies the State CRISIS line is 800-231-4024.