Every October, we join residents and staff of long-term care facilities, state Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs, families, and advocates to celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. This month serves as an extra opportunity to celebrate, and increase awareness of, the rights that people living in long-term care facilities exercise every day.
Upholding the rights and dignity of older adults and people with disabilities everywhere has taken on a new sense of urgency since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This urgency is reflected in the theme selected by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care for this year’s 2021 Residents’ Rights Month, “Reclaiming My Rights, My Home, My Life.”
This theme also captures a core value guiding ACL’s programs and advocacy, as well as the focus of our state Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman programs.
LTC Ombudsman programs work to resolve problems related to the health, safety, welfare, and rights of people who live in LTC facilities, such as nursing homes, assisted living and similar residential care communities. Ombudsman programs promote policies and consumer protections to improve long-term services and supports at the facility, local, state, and national levels. This work has been especially critical during the pandemic.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, I have had an up-close view of how LTC Ombudsman programs, have – and continue to -- innovate to support older adults and people with disabilities during the pandemic.
In fiscal year 2020, state LTC Ombudsman programs:
- Conducted over 191,000 visits to nearly 40,000 nursing homes, assisted living, and similar residential care communities.
- Investigated and worked to resolve over 153,000 complaints about rights. Some of the most common complaints had to do with access to visitors, improper discharges, physical abuse, and issues of dignity and respect. Seventy percent of these complaints were fully or partially resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant, even though most Ombudsman programs could only access facilities virtually during the early months of the pandemic.
- Found a variety of innovative ways to raise the voices of residents and their loved ones before legislators, policy makers, and the media, as well as innovative ways to help residents and families stay informed and connected.
- Continued to be a resource for residents, their families, facility staff, and others by providing over 643,000 instances of information and assistance.
State LTC Ombudsman programs also collaborate with a variety of partners, including many ACL grantees. Some common partners include aging and disability resource centers, state Assistive Technology Act programs, adult protective services, centers for independent living, and state protection and advocacy systems - just to name a few.
While many people know about the work of Ombudsman programs to resolve issues within a long-term care facility, Ombudsmen also help residents who want to transition back into the community. Today, we are releasing a brief that provides a deeper look at how the Ombudsman program assists residents looking to transition out of their facility setting and into one better aligned with the residents’ wishes: either back to their own home or to a less-restrictive residential setting. We hope that you find the brief informative.
I also am pleased to introduce Beverley “Bev” Laubert, who joined us this week as ACL’s new National Ombudsman Program Coordinator. Bev comes to ACL after a distinguished career in the Ohio Long-Term Care Ombudsman program spanning a total of 33 years, including 26 as Ohio’s State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Bev also served as the Ohio’s State Unit on Aging Director in 2018.
I wish to thank Louise Ryan for her ten years of service leading ACL’s Ombudsman program office. Just a few of the accomplishments from her tenure include development of the Ombudsman regulations and their implementation; new model policies and procedures for emergency preparedness and response; the revision of the National Ombudsman Reporting System data collection and final Ombudsman program training standards. Fortunately, Louise is staying in the ACL family as the Region X Regional Administrator.
The work of the Ombudsman program is just one example of the work ACL is doing to protect and promote the rights of long-term care facility residents - from the monitoring work done by protection and advocacy programs and the transitions work done by centers for independent living, to our work alongside federal partners to protect visitation rights and access to health care and promote vaccine access.
As Residents’ Rights Month comes to a close, I hope it serves as a springboard for year-round advocacy. Our work will not be finished until every older adult and person with a disability is empowered to reclaim their rights, their home, and their life.