Should we eliminate public monthly ombudsman meetings? A new bill says yes…

537503_10151493118429708_2081117798_aA new bill introduced in Florida legislature  would bring an end to the monthly meetings between district councils and ombudsmen who volunteer at local long term care facilities. This is monthly meeting  is open to the public where locals can listen as  local advocates discuss problems they’ve seen at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is mandated by the federal Older American Act and is built largely of volunteers who are trained to be local ombudsmen — advocates for residents’ rights.  The state program is run by the Department of Elder Affairs.  There is a top ombudsman who coordinates its services through 17 district councils through the state.  The councils are required to hold meetings monthly which provides the public the opportunity to discuss probelms with local facilities and gives public the opportunity to discuss disputes they have with nursing homes and ALF with the overseeing ombudsman.
The bill ( Rep. Roberson’s HB 91 and Sen. Nancy Detert’s SB 508 ) would strip the Florida statute of the public meeting requirement and the recommended composition of the councils (one licensed pharmacist, one dietitian, a social worker, a nurse, and so on).”The basis of the bill is to make it more compliant with the Older Americans Act; streamline the local district organization and relieve it of some of the unnecessary resources that we’re having to deal with, said Roberson.
Others say it does much more than reorganize the system. Some are arguing that the bill strips away the one influencer that ombudsmen have at their disposal to really make a difference in the lives of long term care residents. Without these monthly meetings, publicizing complaints will be nearly impossible, advocates claim.  The state’s prior ombudsman, Brian Lee,  is  also opposed to the proposed law. œWithout the councils, without the public meetings, how will ombudsmen facilitate public input into the program and pressure facilities to fix the problems?
Brian Lee was Florida’s state ombudsman for almost eight years until he was forced to resign. In January 2011, Lee asked Florida’s nursing homes to provide his office with detailed corporate ownership information, citing a provision in the new Affordable Care Act. Less than two weeks later, he was removed from his post.  While Florida officials said Lee’s departure was part of normal turnover, the state retracted his request for nursing home corporate ownership information four days after he was ousted.
It makes you wonder – is this new proposal the best for our elderly? For the past two years, Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) has been bombarded with negative press as a œweakened and œcrippled program, claims the program vigorously declined in a summer news release.   But this new proposal to do away with the elderly watchdog program’s district councils, along with their monthly publuic meetings, could add to the negative perceptions…We will make sure to keep a watch out during the 2014 Florida Legislative Session.
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What is an ombudsman and what does he/she do?
Volunteer ombudsmen regularly visit long term care facilities, speak with the residents, and perform routine inspections. Their job is to act as advocates on behalf of long term care residents who may otherwise not be able to speak up for themselves. The Office of the Ombudsmen does not have the power, however, to impose fines on a facility for violations; that is the job of the designated regulatory agency.
Long term care facilities house some of the most vulnerable citizens of our society, which spurred the creation of Ombudsmen, in order to help ensure these individuals are not exploited, neglected, or abused in any way. Violations of certain regulations usually end in fines or requested changes in policy after a complaint has been filed.
Every month, the Ombudsmen meet with the 17 district councils. The meetings provide a space in which the advocates can discuss the issues with the council members and determine whether or not to publicize certain complaints and problems related to long term care facilities. Without these meetings, some fear the original intent of the creation of Ombudsmen may dissolve.
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