One often underutilized resource available to nursing home residents and their families are the state and community ombudsmen. In 1985, the Alabama legislature passed the Long-term Residential Health Care Recipient Ombudsman Act. This Act, found in Alabama Code at §§ 22-5A-1 through 22-5A-7, established representatives who are to be available to those who may need assistance while in a long-term care facility. This Act arose as a result of federal requirements placed upon the state agency on aging, namely, the Older Americans Act of 1965.
Ombudsmen are selected by the Agency on Aging, a division of the Department of Senior Services. Upon being selected, the ombudsmen undergo specified training and are provided the guidelines they are to follow in investigating various complaints.
According to the Alabama Act, “[t]he State Ombudsman and the [Department of Senior Services] are … authorized to investigate complaints concerning health care, domiciliary and residential care facilities.” The State Ombudsman is authorized to establish guidelines to “promote the well-being and quality of life of long-term residential health care recipients.” The State Ombudsman also is authorized to establish guidelines for the respective community ombudsmen to assist them in fulfilling their function in the various long-term care facilities.
Community ombudsmen are trained and authorized “[t]o receive, investigate, respond to, and attempt informally to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of recipients;” “[t]o report immediately instances of fraud, abuse, neglect, or exploitation…;” [t]o serve as a third-party mechanism for protecting the health, safety, welfare, and human rights” of patients; and to perform other critical functions, such as collecting data and information on the respective facilities.
Pursuant to the Act, residents of nursing homes or their family member must be provided written information advising them of the availability of an ombudsman at the time of admission to the facility. If a resident or family members submits a complaint about the care at the nursing home, the ombudsman is statutorily required to investigate the complaint. If the ombudsman determines there is an issue that must be corrected, he or she is to report his or her findings to the facility’s administrator. If remedial action is not taken, the community ombudsman is required to report the noncompliance to the appropriate authorities, which may include the Department of Senior Services or the state licensure board for nursing homes.
The website www.alabamaageline.gov provides a helpful summary of the responsibilities of the ombudsman. Generally, this person is authorized to investigate complaints and to investigate any problem areas in a long-term care facility. The ombudsman is a vehicle to encourage better patient care and practices and is to be an advocate for change in the industry. The Alabama Department of Senior Services provides similar information at www.alabamadementia.gov.
While nursing homes should be providing the ombudsman contact information to new residents and their families, this information is also typically posted in a common area on a bulletin board for anyone to observe. In fact, employees and visitors to the facility may also use this service to express concerns with a facility or with patient care.
If a person believes an ombudsman needs to be involved in investigating issues with a nursing home, the person is encouraged to notify the appropriate state agencies. The complaint can be filed with www.alabamaageline.gov or by calling the agency at 800-243-5463. Other available resources are the Nursing Home Complaint Hotline (800-356-9596); the Assisted Living Complaint Hotline (866-873-0366); or the Department of Human Resources of Elder Abuse Hotline (800-458-7214).
Currently, Alabama’s State Ombudsman is Virginia Moore-Bell. She can be contacted through the Alabama Department of Senior Services at 770 Washington Avenue, RSA Plaza, Suite 470, Montgomery, AL 36130. Our firm encourages those with issues to reach out to the community ombudsman over the respective nursing home. Many times, issues that exist in nursing homes can be resolved in this manner. Moreover, it is essential that data and information be collected by the Agency on Aging in order to improve the nursing home care provided in Alabama.
If you need more information on nursing home litigation contact Ben Locklar, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Locklar@beasleyallen.com. Ben handles nursing home litigation for our firm, and he will be glad to talk with you.
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