An ombudsman is a person appointed to investigate complaints by individuals against poor administration, including by public and government officials. In Virginia, the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman provides Virginia seniors, their families and the public with information, advocacy, and assistance to help resolve nursing home abuse. Both paid staff and volunteers, provide help and “a voice for those that are not heard or unable to speak for themselves.” Virginia’s ombudsmen also field complaints from people who receive Medicaid-funded health care in their own homes.
Ombudsmen’s offices operate under federal law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Washington Post reported, “ombudsmen investigated 200,000 complaints in 2015, according to the Administration on Aging, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, almost 117,000 were reported to have been resolved in a way that satisfied the person who made the complaint, and about 30,000 were partially resolved. At the top of the list were problems concerning care, residents’ rights, physical environment, admissions and discharges, and abuse and neglect.” One district volunteer told the Post she had handled problems ranging from call bells that don’t work or are out of reach to noisy roommates and procedures for bathing a resident.
In the jurisdictions of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun, the Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, established in 1985, trains volunteer ombudsmen to field complaints and monitor the quality of care in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“Ombudsmen advocate for the rights of residents of nursing and assisted living facilities. They also help residents resolve conflicts and improve their quality of life,” says the program website. An ombudsman does not have enforcement, and acts only at the direction and consent of the consumer/nursing home resident or that individual’s authorized representative. The involvement of an ombudsman “often makes way for creative solutions to problems that meet both the consumer’s and the provider’s interests.” In the southeast, the private, nonprofit Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia in South Hampton Roads operates a similar Senior Advocate Ombudsman Program.