Who is an Ombudsman and What Do They Do?

“Ombudsman” is a term that means “citizen representative.” The Ombudsman program in the U.S. started as a response to the need for a citizen representative for older people, and this citizen representative would then look into complaints about the quality of life in the nation’s nursing homes. The local ombudsman marks a focal point where complaints regarding the quality of care provided in nursing homes can be investigated and addressed. A lot of states train and certify volunteers who are then appointed to serve as ombudsman and are given the legal authority to investigate and resolve any complaints.

How Can the Ombudsman Help?

As we said, the ombudsman looks into and solves the complaints of residents in nursing homes, adult congregate living facilities, adult care homes (board and care), and long-term care units in hospitals. While the identities of the people making complaints is kept confidential, they may also be made anonymously. Some off the concerns that the ombudsman may look into include the following:

  • Residents’ rights: like policies and practices regarding admissions, transfer, and discharge
  • Resident care: like the delivery and appropriateness of medications, physician services, and nursing care.
  • Finances: including residents’ personal funds, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, charges and billing.
  • Quality of life: including food and physical well-being and care
  • Answering questions and giving information and referrals about long-term care and related services.
  • Promoting resident, family, and community involvement
  • Promoting community education and awareness of residents’ needs.
  • Coordinating efforts with other organizations concerned with care.
  • Visiting each facility at least yearly to evaluate conditions.
  • Helping to create resident and family councils.

Where are the Ombudsman Located?

Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) have been set apart by the Department of Aging as local providers of ombudsman representatives. If you want to find your local ombudsman, then you should contact the AAA nearest to the nursing home or long-term care facility. The AAA will know the telephone number of the ombudsman program that covers that residence. Any concerns as to a resident’s treatment can be made via phone, writing, or in person. 

When Should an Ombudsman Be Called?

The resident and his or her family should make any and every attempt they can to rectify problems and differences with facility staff members. If and when this is not possible, or when the resident or family is uncertain of the outcome, the local ombudsman should be called. He or she will then look into the situation and suggest courses of action. Many times, they may be able to resolve the issue without having to get other groups or agencies involved. When he or she cannot find a solution to the issue, or when it involves cases of serious abuse or neglect, the complaint is then forwarded to the appropriate state agency.