What Is a Long-Term Care Ombudsman?

A long-term care ombudsman is a government official who oversees nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The ombudsman is an expert in the laws and regulations that apply to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. A long-term care ombudsman regularly visits local facilities, investigates complaints, helps consumers select nursing homes and assisted living facilities and advocates on behalf of their residents. Federal law requires states to have this oversight and consumer advocacy program.

Understanding a Long-Term Care Ombudsman

Because long-term care ombudsmen have first-hand experience with the facilities they visit, these officials are an excellent source of information for consumers trying to select a nursing home or assisted living center. The ombudsmen can help to narrow down a list of facilities with excellent ratings and to create a short list of homes to visit in person.

Data for 2015, according to the Administration for Community Living, state that 1,300 full-time staff and 7,734 volunteers were providing services to residents. 

The Role of Ombudsmen

Ombudsmen educate residents and their families about their rights as long-term care consumers. In addition to investigating and helping to resolve specific complaints, long-term care ombudsmen also advocate for improvements in facility care and conditions. These officials also help to form resident councils within facilities that empower residents and allow them to influence their own care and living conditions.

The types of complaints long-term care ombudsmen might need to address include undignified treatment, abuse, neglect, inadequate care and inappropriate discharge. Residents of long-term care facilities have the same rights as individuals living independently. Unfortunately, as numerous cases of elder abuse have shown, nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not always respect these rights.

According to the Administration for Community Living, the five most common complaints that are handled by ombudsman are:

  • Improper eviction or discharge
  • Unmet requests for assistance
  • Poor staff attitudes perhaps showing a lack of respect for residents
  • Administration of medications
  • Quality of life, such as conflict with other residents

Consumer Rights

Individuals do not lose their privacy rights, personal property rights, right to be informed about and provide consent for medical care, or any other rights when they enter a long-term care facility. However, many residents of these facilities are incapacitated, disabled or have diminished mental or physical capacities, which makes them vulnerable to mistreatment. The ombudsman program is required to help curb these abuses.