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Ombudsmen: Front-Line Advocates for Nursing Home Residents
Disagreements with a nursing home can arise regarding any number of topics, including the quality of food, troublesome roommates, lack of privacy, or services not meeting what was promised. Many disputes can be resolved by speaking with a nursing home staff member, supervisor, or moving up the chain of command. But if you can't resolve things within the nursing home, your next step should be to contact the local ombudsman assigned to the nursing home.
An ombudsman is an advocate for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes, and assisted living facilities who is trained to resolve problems. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an ombudsman program that addresses residents' complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system. While ombudsmen do not have direct authority to require action by a facility, they have the responsibility to negotiate on a resident's behalf and to work with other state agencies for effective enforcement.
Every statewide program is usually composed of several regional or local ombudsman programs that operate within an Area Agency on Aging or other community organization. To find the ombudsman nearest you, contact the ombudsman office in your state, which can be found here.
In addition to resolving complaints, ombudsmen may provide information about how to select a nursing home and answer questions about long-term care facilities, help people find the services they need in the community instead of entering a nursing home, and provide education on residents' rights. Most state ombudsman programs publish annual reports about the problems and concerns they address. Many ombudsman programs have limited staff resources. For this reason, most local programs seek volunteers who can be trained to help visit residents, act as advocates, and monitor general facility conditions. To learn more about the ombudsman program, visit the National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center at www.ltcombudsman.org.