The Ombudsman Programs

Our Position:

State and Local Long-Term Care Ombudsmen are a crucial element in the quality of care and quality of life of people living in our nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Ombudsman Programs were created by the federal government to provide advocates for people who are so very often no longer able to advocate for themselves. In addition to advocating for residents of long-term care facilities, they also have a mandate to inform government agency staff, industry staff, and legislators on the local, state, and federal levels of the impact that their decisions and practices have and will have on people who need long-term care services.

The Ombudsman Programs, although they were initially created in 1965, have always been and remain a small and relatively little known program. They have not received the recognition they require for the critical job that they are charged with. As such, we feel they are somewhat more suceptible to interference from both legislators who have not received adequate information regarding the purpose of the program and from industry personnel.

We are becoming increasingly concerned about attempts, successful in some cases, of elected officials including State Governors and State Legislators taking steps to muzzle our Ombudsmen at the request of the long-term care facility groups. This is particularly troubling in this age of massive private equity fund and real estate investment trust ownership of rapidly increasing numbers of nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country.

We believe that Ombudsman Programs must

 

The Issue:

In Florida: In early 2011, the newly elected Governor, Rick Scott, fired the well -respected State Ombudsman, Brian Lee, for asking nursing homes for a list of their owners, a requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The well-established and well-functioning volunteer ombudsman force was subsequently decimated at the same time Florida newspapers were reporting care attrocities in some of Florida's nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Governor Scott in a previous life "helped found the Columbia Hospital Corporation with two business partners; this merged with Hospital Corporation of America in 1989 to form Columbia/HCA and eventually became the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S. He was forced to resign as Chief Executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a scandal over the company's business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million"-Wikipedia. This is the largest Medicare Fraud fine in the history of the program.

Subsequent investigations by the Administration on Aging have confirmed allegations of wrong-doing.

Florida State Senator, Eleanor Sobel (D-31) stated the issue well in an article in the Sun Sentinal.com on September 16, 2011. "It is beyond time for this administration and legislature to stop paying lip service to residents' rights. It will be a top priority of mine to ensure that appropriate necessary safeguards are in place to protect our most frail and vulnerable citizens from abuse and neglect, starting with an independent Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

An independent ombudsman office is needed now more than ever. We need a program that can provide unbiased information to policymakers and consumers so we know how to fix problems and develop solutions that will benefit residents. Volunteers must also have the assurance that they can conduct their advocacy work without fear of retribution.

We established this program to advocate for residents' rights, now it is time for us to become stand up and become the "advocates' advocate."

Other States: Voices is aware of many states where