An ombudsman is a long-term care advocate who investigates and helps resolve issues that involve residents of long-term care facilities, assisted living communities and personal care homes. These individuals are trained to answer questions about residents’ rights and offer solutions to complaints before a problem becomes more serious. The majority of ombudsmen nationwide – most of whom are certified – are volunteers who work to assist the elderly in residential care facilities.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
Thousands of trained volunteers work as advocates for the nation’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Local ombudsmen represent elderly residents and their families who have complaints about the quality of care. The Administration on Aging reports that as of 2009 there were about 11,000 volunteer ombudsmen – 8,700 of them certified – investigating more than 230,000 complaints. Common complaints are related to poor quality of care because of inadequate staffing. About 1,200 paid staff serve in the Ombudsman Program nationwide.
Volunteer ombudsmen work under the supervision of paid staff. The program requires that individuals provide references and agree to a criminal background check when submitting an application to act as a volunteer ombudsman. Before becoming certified, an ombudsman volunteer must complete at least 20 hours of classroom training and 30 hours of field training. Volunteers are required to attend a minimum of 10 in-service trainings each year.
A state or regional long-term care ombudsman is a paid employee. Salaries are based on a person’s level of experience, but can range from $49,000 to $62,000 or more annually as is the case in the state of Washington. An applicant for the position must hold an advanced degree in nursing, psychology, counseling, social work, public administration, elder law or other field related to human services, the elderly or long-term care. Experience in public policy or in identifying and resolving problems through mediation and negotiation is required. Ombudsmen in paid staff positions must be able to develop and support state and regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Advisory Committees.
All states have an Ombudsman Program headed by a full-time state ombudsman. State programs receive funding from the federal government under the Older Americans Act. Each year Congress appropriates funds to help pay for the program. Other federal monies along with state and local resources contribute funding to the Ombudsman Program in 572 communities nationwide. In approximately 75 percent of the cases reported, ombudsmen resolve or to some extent settle a complaint to the satisfaction of the resident or resident’s family. Although the Administration on Aging oversees the program overall, a state’s Long-Term Care Advisory Committee appointed by the state’s governor often monitors state and regional programs.