What Is an Ombudsman?

A nursing home ombudsman is an individual who advocates for long-term care facility residents, defends their rights, and ensures they are protected from verbal abuse, neglect, and assault. Ombudsmen are independent consultants who can recommend changes to procedures or policies to improve a nursing home’s effectiveness, humaneness, and efficiency.

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Nursing home residents deserve the highest standard of care they can receive and should have an advocate if those standards falter in any way. This is the job of an ombudsman, an independent consultant who works to resolve disputes and problems related to the safety, health, and well-being of long-term care facility residents.

The name “ombudsman” comes from the Swedish word meaning “representative,” and an ombudsperson can work with nursing homes, health-care organizations, governments, colleges, universities, and organizations to resolve concerns or conflicts on behalf of an individual or group.

In this guide, we’re going to explore the role of ombudsmen in detail and how they help nursing home facilities improve their standards and ensure their residents are living in the best possible conditions.

What does a nursing home ombudsman do?

A nursing home ombudsman’s primary responsibility is to protect nursing home residents against abuse, neglect, and assault within their facility.

Ombudsmen will investigate claims of elder abuse and work to permanently resolve them within the long-term care facility where the reports originated. Furthermore, they’ll collect elder abuse data, hold caregivers in nursing homes accountable, and help seniors with their complaint filings if necessary. Ombudsmen are essential for bringing elder abusers to justice and work with law enforcement and investigatory agencies to advocate on behalf of senior residents.

Ombudsmen Work to Eliminate Abuse Within Nursing Homes

Ombudsmen have the responsibility of eliminating abuse within nursing homes and bringing elder abuse victims to justice. After they receive a complaint, the ombudsman begins gathering evidence and working toward a resolution. If necessary, the ombudsman will report the abuse to the appropriate legal channels and report elder abuse to the administrators of the facility in question.

When elder abuse is reported and brought to light, the nursing home facility from which the reports originated can begin improving the quality of care for their residents, stopping elder abuse once and for all and changing their procedures and methods of operation to accommodate their residents.

If a nursing home employee is found to be abusive toward residents, the administrators of the facility may take action such as permanent dismissal. New rules will likely be created to ensure the safety of residents, and recommendations from the ombudsman will be heard and put into practice.

Assisting Nursing Home Residents and Their Families

If a nursing home resident has any issues or concerns about their facility, they can reach out to an ombudsman for help and assistance.

Residents can make complaints related to possible nursing home neglect, verbal or physical abuse, or even low-quality food that affects the nutrition, diet, and well-being of the residents.

Ombudsmen will work with residents and their families in case a resident is unable to speak for themselves due to a disability. Unless the resident permits the ombudsman to share information related to their complaints, everything is kept confidential and private to protect the resident from the fear of retaliation by nursing home staff.

Collaborating with Government Agencies

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Administration for Aging (AoA) run nursing home ombudsmen programs. Ombudsmen will work closely with various government agencies as well as staff at the national, state, and local levels to ensure the safety of residents in the facilities they visit.

Whenever an ombudsman visits an assisted living facility, they are required to enter records such as how many facilities have been visited, how many hours were spent at each facility, and what complaints were handled or resolved. All of this data is stored in the National Ombudsman Reporting System.

Ombudsmen will note which reports or complaints are most common within a facility and if there are any significant problems with the standard care within a nursing home. Data from the National Ombudsman Reporting System helps government officials understand and address problems within long-term care facilities nationwide.

How do ombudsmen improve nursing home care?

An ombudsman representing nursing home residents helps older adults receive the high-quality standards of care they deserve and advocates on their behalf if they are unable. They’ll often take time to teach residents about their rights and encourage them to report any abuse or neglect they encounter within their facility.

Resolving Nursing Home Resident Complaints

One of the most important responsibilities of an ombudsman is to resolve problems, disputes, and issues reported by long-term care facility residents.

This is also one of the most impactful measures when it comes to improving the standard of care within nursing homes since all complaints are taken seriously and are immediately addressed by the facility to prevent any issues from reoccurring in the future.

A nursing home ombudsman handles complaints related to:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Poor food quality
  • Lack of health care
  • Wrongful evictions
  • Mistreatment
  • Unanswered requests for help

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable for Residents’ Rights

Nursing home ombudsmen are critical for helping residents understand their rights and advocating on their behalf.

As a part of the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law, the rights of residents in care facilities were made explicitly clear.

Residents have the following rights when residing in nursing home or care facilities:

  • The right of care: Nursing home residents should receive care without discrimination.
  • The right to dignity: Residents within nursing homes should always be treated as honored guests.
  • The right to housing: A facility cannot discharge a resident without following the proper standards and procedures.
  • The right to privacy: Personal privacy is an inherent right of nursing home residents.
  • The right to safety: All residents have the right to be completely free of abuse or neglect.
  • The right of expression: Nursing home residents have the right to express their beliefs without facing retaliation.
  • The right of personal property: All nursing home residents have a right to manage their own affairs and possess personal property.

Get Help from a Nursing Home Ombudsman Today

If you or someone you know is a resident of a nursing home and experienced abuse, neglect, or a low standard of care in their facility, search the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center to find the contact information for a representative near you.

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Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD, is a medical content creator. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree and a Bachelors degree in neuroscience, both from the University of Washington in Seattle. Her career is now focused around medical communications. She primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, court documents, and more. She also teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health, as well as at the general public level in yoga teacher training programs. Her book, The Yoga Doctor, was published in 2015.

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Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.