Dementia Q&A with Joan Schmitz, Regional Ombudsman with the Wisconsin Board on Aging in Long Term Care.http://www.ltcombudsman.org/
1. KIM – Please Define Ombudsman.
JS – The word, ‘Ombudsman’ (om-budz-man) is Scandinavian. In this country the word has come to mean an advocate or helper. An Ombudsman protects and promotes the rights of long term care consumers. In addition to working with consumers and their families to achieve quality care and quality of life. Long term care consumers have an undeniable right to express concerns without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
2. KIM – Generally speaking, what are the duties and scope of responsibility of an Ombudsman? Does this vary state by state?
JS – Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an Ombudsman program that addresses complaints and advocates for improvements in the long term care system. Some states function primarily with the power of volunteers. In Wisconsin, we combine volunteers with 15 professionally paid Ombudsman that cover long term care consumers in all 72 counties. Program configurations vary greatly from state to state. To find your local Ombudsman program, click here: http://www.ltcombudsman.org/
The Older Americans Act outlines all the responsibilities of an Ombudsman; three of the most crucial duties are listed here:
#1 – Identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of long term care consumers.
#2 – Educate and inform long term care consumers and the general public regarding issues and concerns related to long term care, and facilitate public comment on laws, regulations, policies and actions.
#3 – Advocate for changes to improve long term care consumers’ quality of life and care.
3. KIM – Can you name the top three scenarios that may cause someone to seek the services of an Ombudsman?
JS – #1 – Family has a need to identify an appropriate long term care facility for a family member or friend.
#2 – Want to register a concern or complaint about the quality of their long term care services.
#3 – Have questions related to long term care services and/or residents rights in the different living situations.
4. KIM – Often, consumers are hesitant to file complaints or are concerned about potential repercussions. Is it Possible to reach out to an Ombudsman anonymously? If yes, please explain how they can be sure their identity is protected.
JS – Yes! All inquiries remain confidential unless the consumer agrees to the release of any information.
Complaints can be registered as anonymous, but generally speaking that doesn’t ensure the best resolution of issues. We prefer to work with specific families and residents in resolving complaints to their individual satisfaction. Since all identifying information is held in the strictest confidence, callers shouldn’t fear any repercussions. Remember, Federal and State laws assure you that you also have an undeniable right to express your complaint without fear of retailiation or reprisal.
5. KIM – From your vantage point; what benefits does an Ombudsman bring into the elder care industry that you’d like consumers to be aware of?
JS – Program data from 2011 indicated that long term care Ombudsman services to residents were provided nationwide by 1,186 full-time staff and 9065 volunteers. Together, these folks accomplished a great deal. Highlights included:
**Worked to resolve 204,044 complaints, opening 134,775 new cases.
**Resolved or partially resolved 73% of all complaints to the satisfaction of the resident or complainant.
**Conducted 5,144 training sessions in facilities on such topics as residents’ rights.
Whether through individual contact with residents or systemic advocacy, Ombudsmen make a difference in the lives of residents in long term care facilities, Daily!
THANK YOU! Joan Schmitz, Regional Ombudsman with the Wisconsin Board on Aging in Long Term Care.