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An Ombudsman is someone who is concerned with protecting the civil and human rights of persons receiving long-term care services. Each state is required by federal law to have an Ombudsman program. Rhode Island has one that is centrally located in Warwick. Their services are always free of charge and all inquiries are held in strict confidence.
The Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (RISLTCOP) advocates for residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and those receiving hospice or licensed home care who have been victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or misappropriation of property. Ombudsmen work to resolve problems these individuals face and affect change at the local, state, and national levels to improve quality of care.
The organization strives to be a compassionate voice for those who may not have anyone to advocate on their behalf. They also educate residents and their loved ones, letting them know they have rights and encouraging them to use their voice to self-advocate. Among the facilities they help include the residents of the RI Veteran’s Home and Eleanor Slater Hospital.
Kathleen Heren, the RI State Long Term Care Ombudsman, said their primary mission is resolving disputes objectively by investigating complaints brought forth by either the resident or their supporters.
“We help those who have simple questions about our services to those who believe their loved ones are being mistreated in a care facility setting,” she said. “Our office is located here in Warwick, but our services are available throughout the entire state. We solve problems while championing those who seek our help.”
Heren works along with her dedicated staff of nurses and social workers who are also certified Long Term Care Ombudsman. The Program, which is contracted through the Office of Healthy Aging is a federal program that began in 1972 as a demonstration project in a few states. It is now federally mandated in all 50 states under the Older Americans Act that is administered by the Administration of Aging.
A Long Term Care Ombudsman has unique expertise and understanding of long-term care services. They offer an independent perspective and have direct, open lines of communication with residents in care facilities. Throughout history, Ombudsmen have built skillful coalitions and successfully negotiated agreements with numerous agencies and programs and involved residents and families in developing their advocacy agenda.
Other Ombudsman responsibilities include:
• Providing education to the consumer about the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
• Supplying the consumer advice in selecting a long-term care facility
• Explaining residents’ rights and other federal and state laws and regulations affecting long term care residents and facilities
• Attempting to resolve issues between residents’ families and facilities
• Preparing guidance on Medicare and Medicaid coverage
• Giving guidance on matters of powers of attorneys and advanced directives
• Investigating complaints of inadequate staffing and medical services being provided to residents, such as medication, nutrition or personal hygiene
• Representing residents in 30-Day Notice Hearings.
Ombudsman also serve on committees that develop and enact laws for long-term care residents and people with disabilities receiving long term care services.
RISLTCOP is located in the Alliance for Better Long Term Care building on 422 Post Road in Warwick. Although they are housed in the same office, the programs are separate entities. RISLTCOP is an employee of the Alliance for Better Long Term Care works all the time with the state Ombudsman. There is a Long-Term Care Ombudsman Advisory Board that works solely with the Ombudsman Program.
Long Term Care Ombudsman Lorrena Nardi said, “The Ombudsman Program is an excellent resource for any number of issues and concerns that occur in a long-term care setting. She notes providing information about long term care facilities, educating prospective residents and families on what to look for when choosing a facility as well as providing support to Resident and Family Councils are more ways they can help.
“We can also help to empower residents and families about their rights and having them report wrongdoing without the fear of retribution either from staff or other residents,” she added. “There are numerous ways we can offer assistance in what could be a stressful situation.”
RISLTCOP also seeks qualified individuals to become Certified Long Term Care Volunteer Ombudsman. Volunteers visit with residents in long term care facilities and advocate on their behalf. They help to get questions and concerns addressed regarding their care. Potential volunteers are carefully screened and undergo a training program before they are sent out into the field.
Heren said the rewards are many and go far beyond simply volunteering.
“People have a genuine sense of pride in helping others,” she said. “This past year-plus has drawn people together to face such adversity. We are here as a trusted resource for anyone who needs a hand. Our message is, ‘you are not alone.’”
Long Term Care Ombudsman and Volunteer Training Coordinator, Lori Light, said “Volunteers are a valuable part of our team. They are passionate about the care Rhode Island’s residents receive in our nursing and assisted living facilities.”
Anyone looking to make a difference in the lives of long term care residents, you may email Lori at Lori@alliancebltc.org.
RISLTCOP is supported by federal funding, state grants through the Office of Healthy Aging and philanthropic giving through private donations, under the umbrella of the Alliance for Long Term Care.
For more information about these and other services the RISLTCOP provides, please call 401-785-3340 or toll free at 888-351-0807 or visit their website at www.risltcop.org.