August 9, 2012
Californians are getting older. The number of state residents over 60 grew from 1.6 million in 1950 to 4.7 million in 2000. By 2020, nearly 20 percent of California’s population is expected to be 60 or older. By 2050, that number is expected to be 25 percent.
Many senior citizens end up in nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, or assisted living facilities. In many cases, a senior citizen must go outside the long-term care system for help with a complaint. The Ombudsman Program can help resolve complaints and advocate for facility improvements.
“Ombudsman,” by the way, is an indigenous Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish term; it is a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between either the state (or elements of it) or an organization, and some internal or external constituency, while representing not only, but mostly, the broad scope of constituent interests.
In 1965, Congress passed the Older Americans Act (OAA), 42 U.S.C. 3056 et seq., which is the major vehicle for the organization and delivery of social and nutrition services for older citizens and their caregivers. Under authorization of the OAA, in 1975, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program was mandated, 42 U.S.C. 3056g. In order to receive federal funds, each state must establish and operate an Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Now there are ombudsman programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The California State Long-Term Ombudsman Program was established and placed under the Department of Aging pursuant to the Welfare and Institutions Code, sections 9700-9701. There are 35 local Ombudsman Programs, including Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara.
The Ombudsman Program’s mission is to identify, investigate, and resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of residents of long-term care facilities that relate to action, inaction, or decisions that may adversely affect their health, safety, welfare, and rights. In July 2011, there were 7,680 Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFE) with 170,904 beds, and 1,289 Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) with 121,514 beds.
According to the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Annual Report for fiscal year 2010-11, the five most frequent nursing facility complaints were (1) resident conflict, including roommate; (2) accident or injury of unknown origin, falls, improper handling; (3) physical abuse, including corporal punishment; (4) failure to respond to requests for assistance; and (5) dignity, respect-staff attitudes.
According to the Annual Report, the five most frequent assistant living facility complaints were (1) medications-administration, organization; (2) resident conflict, including roommate; (3) food service-quantity, quality, variation, choice, condiments, utensils, menu; (4) equipment/building-disrepair, hazard, poor lighting, fire safety, security; and (5) accident or injury of unknown origin, falls, improper handling.
The total number of complaints received by the Ombudsman Program was 38,918 for fiscal year 2010-11 with the California resolution rate of 69.14 percent. The Ombudsman Program received 5,959 abuse complaints in fiscal year 2010-11; 1,534 physical abuse; 527 sexual abuse; 852 verbal/psychological; 510 financial; 891 gross neglect; and 1,645 resident to resident physical or sexual abuse.
Trained volunteers are an integral part of the Ombudsman Program. My wife, for example, is now training to be a volunteer. Her social work background and fluency in Spanish should be well-suited for the program.
The California Ombudsman Program has a 24-hour Ombudsman crisis line at 1-800-231-4024. In addition, there is a Senior Information line at 1-800-510-2020. For an overview of California’s Long-Term Ombudsman Program, see (www.aging.ca.gov/Programs/