New York and the mid-Hudson are critically short of volunteers to help police nursing homes, according to a new report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.
The region and the state lack both volunteer and full-time paid ombudsmen, according to the comptroller, who defined the mid-Hudson as Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Greene and Columbia counties.
Among other duties, New York’s ombudsmen identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of the 160,000 residents living in 1,500 long-term care facilities, including those in nursing and adult homes.
DiNapoli’s auditors found that, as of January, only about 600 of the state’s long-term care facilities had an assigned volunteer ombudsman, leaving the remaining 900 to be covered by just 50 paid full-time ombudsmen. That’s about half the minimum number of full-time staff recommended by state guidelines.
Locally, 40 of Orange County’s long-term care facilities were without an ombudsman as of January, while those tallies were three for Sullivan County and five for Ulster County. And the mid-Hudson’s full-time ombudsmen office had three full-time staff members in 2018 or one-and-a-half fewer than the state recommends.
Without ombudsmen, long-term care facilities’ residents and families can still call a state hotline to make complaints.
But, “Volunteers are desperately needed to make sure the elderly are protected and that they do have someone to go to with these complaints” in person, said Mark Johnson, a DiNapoli spokesman.
Part of the problem is that New York’s volunteer ombudsmen total has plummeted in recent years, falling 37 percent to 562 in 2018 from 890 in 2015.
That decline is attributable to several factors, said elder care expert Richard Mollot, who runs the Long Term Care Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group. The state also subcontracts with his group to handle the mid-Hudson’s ombudsmen program.
In recent years, the state reorganizing and reducing the number of local offices for ombudsmen is partly responsible for the loss of volunteers, who’ve been asked to cover more disparate areas, Mollot said. The move was done to help the state comply with new federal requirements.
The state’s 15 ombudsmen offices, nearly all of which are run by nonprofits subcontracted by the state, also have spent recent years working harder to ensure volunteers are visiting facilities and logging time collecting complaints, Mollot said.
Those accountability, transparency and training requirements have contributed to a loss of volunteers, Mollot added, some of whom were more like “candy-striper” hospital volunteers, who made occasional visits rather than acting as strong advocates for long-term care facilities’ residents.
DiNapoli’s audit also cited the job’s challenges — volunteers being exposed to neglect and abuse — and the lack of pay. The mid-Hudson’s ombudsmen program has been experimenting with a pilot stipend program.
In terms of a lack of full-time staff locally and statewide, Mollot said the state just isn’t funding ombudsmen programs well enough.
“The answer is more paid staff and funding” for regional ombudsmen offices to hire full-timers, while recruiting and training more volunteers, Mollot said. “The ombudsmen are absolutely critical to protecting the elderly in nursing homes and in assisted living.”
“Clearly, we need someone to better police these facilities,” said Guyt, who also serves on U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s public committee to improve local elder care.
Full Article & Source:
State: Patient advocates in short supply at long-term care facilities