The list seems endless: poor care, lack of responsiveness, inedible food, over-medication, discharging residents without notice or a care plan, little communication about treatment planning. If you are a nursing home or assisted living resident, you don’t have to put up with it. You have a free advocate only a phone call away.
What is the Ombudsman Program?
Welcome to the Texas long-term care ombudsman program. It may well have been the best-kept secret in Texas, although that is about to change. As of January 1, 2022, long term care facilities were required to post information about the ombudsman program on their websites.
What is the ombudsman program? It is an independent program within Texas Health and Human Services that advocates for resident rights to “protect the quality of life and quality of care of anybody who lives in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.”
It could be your lifeline.
The program is basically a one-stop shop that gives residents and families information about their rights and then works with the facilities to solve specific problems. Ombudsman services are confidential and free.
Ombudsman Program Work
How effective is the program? In 2019, ombudsmen conducted 21, 298 visits to 1,230 nursing facilities. The most frequent complaints they investigated were: 1,203 reports of failure to response to requests for help (including call lights), 860 reports of building cleanliness, pests, or housekeeping problems, 811 reports of problems with food quantity, quality, variation, or choice, 692 reports of failure to follow discharge planning, notice, or procedure, and 644 reports of dignity and respect not shown to residents.
Do those complaints sound familiar? They should: a whopping 93% were verified as true. Of those, 79% were resolved through the ombudsman program.
Assisted living facilities faired only slightly better. There were 13,379 visits to 2,050 facilities. The reported problems fell into the same categories as those of nursing homes, with the exception that there were 140 reports of problems with medication administration. On the ALF side, 91% of the complaints were verified as true, and 78% were resolved.
Contrary to popular belief, residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not give up their rights on admission. In fact, federal and state law guarantees them additional rights. These include:
- The right to be treated with respect, dignity, and consideration
- The right to be free from mental, physical, or verbal abuse and chemical and physical restraints
- The right to choose their own attending physician, including the hospice provider, and source of pharmacy service
- The right to not be transferred or discharged without cause or notice
- The right to make complaints and express grievances without fear of discrimination or reprisal.
The ombudsman program helps protect those rights. In addition to advocating on single resident issues, the program works to change policy and law to protect the residents. In 2020, for example, the program’s annual published report pointed out that residents’ rights were eroded by facilities’ Covid response and made recommendations on how those rights could be better protected.
The program uses professional staff and volunteers to fill the ombudsman role. Each volunteer must complete a state-approved training and be certified by the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. In 2019 there were 386 volunteers who donated over 31,000 hours, and 116 staff members.
You can contact the ombudsman program by sending an email to email@example.com or calling toll-free 1-800-252-2412.
Keep this information handy. You never know when you or a loved one will land in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Hammerle Finley Law Firm Can Help
When it comes to protecting the rights of the elderly, finding proper legal representation is important. The Elder Law attorneys at Hammerle Finley are experienced with all legal issues associated with aging. Schedule a consultation with an attorney at Hammerle Finley today for more assistance.
Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm. She is entering her 40th year in the practice of law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal specialization. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive her firm’s newsletter.