Ombudsman: Ombuds What?

Category: Newsletter

The name “ombudsman” (om budz man) comes from Swedish and literally means “representative.” At the most fundamental level, an ombudsman is one who assists individuals and groups in the resolution of conflicts or concerns. There are a number of different titles or names for this position: “ombudsman,” “ombudsperson” or “ombuds” among others. Ombuds work in all types of organizations, including government agencies, colleges and universities, corporations, hospitals and other healthcare organizations, and not-for-profit organizations, foundations, and associations.

There are different types of ombuds with different roles, functional responsibilities, and standards of practice including organizational ombuds, classical ombuds, and advocate ombuds. For the Purpose of this article we will be discussing a Long Term Care Ombudsman

What Does an Ombudsman Do? Long-term care Ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. Ombudsmen provide information about how to find a facility and what to do to get quality care. They are trained to resolve problems. If you want, the Ombudsman can assist you with complaints. However, unless you give the Ombudsman permission to share your concerns, these matters are kept confidential. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an Ombudsman Program that addresses complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system.

The Ombudsman program is administered by the Administration on Aging (AoA)/Administration for Community Living (ACL).  The network has 5,947 volunteers certified to handle complaints and 1,362 paid staff. Most state Ombudsman programs are housed in their State Unit on Aging.  Nationally, in 2019 the Ombudsman program investigated over 198,502 complaints and provided information on long-term care to another 425,084 people.

Whether through individual contact with residents or systemic advocacy, Ombudsmen make a difference in the lives of residents in long-term care facilities every day.

What is the purpose of an ombudsman? The typical duties of an ombudsman are to investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them, usually through recommendations (binding or not) or mediation. Ombudsmen sometimes also aim to identify systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people’s rights.

What happens when a complaint goes to the ombudsman? The ombudsman will look at evidence from both sides and decide what should happen. An ombudsman’s investigation can take a long time, so you might have to wait a while for a decision. If the ombudsman decides your complaint is justified, they’ll recommend what the organization should do to put things right.

What powers does an ombudsman have? An ombudsman has the power to investigate and file complaints against otherwise influential organizations or high-ranking officials. They often have the power to request key documents, interview individuals, and order a legal investigation if necessary. If agreed to, ombudsmen rulings are legally binding.

Is the ombudsman free? Ombudsman schemes are free for consumers to use and are an alternative to going to court to sort out a problem.

How do I contact my local ombudsman? Additionally, all long-term care facilities are required to post, in a visible location, the phone number for the local Ombudsman office and the Statewide CRISIS line number 1-800-231-4024.

A Long-Term Care Ombudsman:

  • Resolves complaints made by or for residents of long-term care facilities
  • Educates consumers and long-term care providers about residents’ rights and good care practices
  • Promotes community involvement through volunteer opportunities
  • Provides information to the public on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and services, residents’ rights and legislative and policy issues
  • Advocates for residents’ rights and quality care in nursing homes, personal care, residential care and other long-term care facilities
  • Promotes the development of citizen organizations, family councils and resident councils
  • Long-term care Ombudsmen efforts are summarized in the National Ombudsman Reporting System to include the number of facilities visited, the types of complaints handled and the kinds of complaints filed with Ombudsmen. Data has been collected since 1996 and gives a good picture of the extent of ombudsman activities nationally and in every state.

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Updated: August 16, 2017