Residents of long-term care homes have an advocate

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The list seems endless: poor care, lack of responsiveness, inedible food, over-medication, discharge of residents without notice or plan of care, little communication about treatment planning. If you are a retirement home or an assisted living facility, you don’t have to put up with it. You have a free lawyer on the phone.

Welcome to the Texas Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. It was perhaps Texas’ best-kept secret, although that is about to change. As of January 1, 2022, long-term care facilities are required to post information about the ombudsman program on their websites.

What is the ombudsman program? This is an independent program within Texas Health and Human Services that advocates for the rights of residents to “protect the quality of life and the quality of care for everyone living in a nursing home or assisted living facility.” .

It could be your lifeline.

The program is a one-stop-shop that gives residents and families information about their rights and works with facilities to resolve specific issues. The services of the Ombudsman are confidential and free.

How effective is the program? In 2019, the ombudsmen carried out 21,298 visits to 1,230 healthcare establishments. The most frequent complaints they investigated were: 1,203 reports of non-response to requests for help (including call lights); 860 reports of building cleanliness, pests or housekeeping problems; 811 reports of problems concerning quantity, quality, variation or choice of foods; 692 reports of non-compliance with planning, notice or discharge procedure; and 644 reports of unmanaged dignity and respect towards residents.

A whopping 93% have been verified as true. Of these, 79% were resolved through the ombudsman program.

Assisted living units are doing only slightly better. There were 13,379 visits to 2,050 establishments. The problems reported fell into the same categories as those in nursing homes, except that there were 140 reports of problems with medication administration. As for serviced residences, 91% of complaints were verified and 78% were resolved.

Contrary to popular belief, residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not waive their admission rights. In fact, federal and state laws guarantee them additional rights. These include:

• The right to be treated with respect, dignity and consideration.

• The right not to be subjected to mental, physical or verbal abuse and to chemical and physical constraints.

• The right to choose one’s own treating physician, including hospice provider, and source of pharmacy service.

• The right not to be transferred or discharged without cause or notice.

• The right to complain and express grievances without fear of discrimination or reprisal.

The ombudsman program helps protect these rights. In addition to advocating for the issues of single residents, the program works to change policies and laws to protect residents. In 2020, for example, the annual report released by the program highlighted that residents ‘rights have been eroded by the facilities’ COVID-19 response and made recommendations on how those rights could be better protected.

The program uses professional staff and volunteers to fulfill the role of ombudsperson. Each volunteer must complete state-approved training and be certified by the state’s long-term care ombudsman program. In 2019, there were 386 volunteers who donated over 31,000 hours and 116 staff.

Contact the ombudsman program by emailing [email protected] or call 1-800-252-2412.

Keep this information handy. You never know when you or a loved one will land in a retirement home or assisted living facility.

Virginia Hammerle is president of the law firm Hammerle Finley and certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in civil trial law. To receive his newsletter, send an email [email protected] or visit hammerle.com. This section does not constitute legal advice.


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