ACCA’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program – A Resource for You and Your Family
Although disruption of our normal routine is happening all around us, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is still available to advocate for the health, safety, welfare, and rights of residents of Nursing Homes, Personal Care Homes and Assisted Living Communities. I used to work in long-term care facilities and can imagine the grief and fear that long-term care staff may be experiencing right now. While the Ombudsman and facility directors may not always see eye to eye, now more than ever we have the opportunity to work together toward two vital and common goals: quality resident care and preserving residents’ rights. This is a frightening time for long term care residents, facility staff, and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The general public, residents, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and those who work in the long-term care world can ease this trepidation through transparent communication and cooperation.
ACCA provides Long-Term Care Ombudsman services in 27 east and northeast Georgia counties. Even during the restriction on visits to long-term care facilities, our Ombudsman Representatives are still available to respond to any type of complaint or concern. In the past month, our representatives have responded to complaints of late medications, and residents not getting showers as scheduled, as well as concerns about PPE availability, staffing ratios, Medicaid application issues, and other concerns around COVID-19.
We are responding remotely since we have been ordered by the federal government and our governor not to enter the facilities. While it is not the ideal way to do our work, we are still responding to complaints, requests for information and assistance, and working with facilities to resolve residents’ problems and meet resident needs. Our program has been fielding phone calls from concerned residents, families, and community members regarding facility response to COVID-19 outbreaks, clarification on new guidelines and regulation waivers, as well as care concerns unrelated to COVID-19. Although we are not a regulatory agency, we are kept up to date on regulations and rule changes and can provide a perspective to residents and family members who may not know what is normal and expected during this time.
We are in regular contact with residents and facility staff to stay updated on how things are going. During these conversations we ask if COVID-19 is in the facility, whether enough staff are available to serve the residents, the status of resident and staff morale, and any other information they want to share. We have confirmed that the national guard has been in at least some of the facilities in our service area to help with disinfecting and infection control. We expect this important work to continue. We have had facility directors reach out to our program looking for consultation on how to navigate this new and unprecedented normal that we are all adjusting to and working through.
ACCA’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman representatives continue to be available to residents, family members, facility staff, other agencies, and the general public to answer questions and provide information. Our federal and state mandate is to keep resident and complainant information confidential unless we have been given permission by the resident or complainant to identify them in our work to resolve the issue or concern. That requirement has not changed, even during this pandemic.
During non-pandemic times, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program works to preserve and advocate for residents’ rights. The lives of older adults are important, and the vast majority of long-term care staff are diligent, caring, and hard-working health care professionals. I regularly express to facilities and residents that there is no such thing as a “perfect” facility. Long Term Care facilities are people taking care of people and it is expected that there will be times where issues need to be ironed out and adjustments need to be made. When concerns are brought to light it makes a world of difference for residents and Long-Term Care Ombudsman that facilities work to recognize, investigate, and address the concern. Communication and transparency are always important, but especially important right now. Residents still have the right to be treated with dignity, be served warm food, get their medication on time, and to have their grievances heard.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program with any questions or concerns about long-term care facilities. As always, we are here for, and will always staunchly advocate on behalf of the older adults and adults with disabilities living in long term care.
– Liz Schulze, Program Coordinator, Long-term Care Ombudsman Program 706-549-4850