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December NORC Notes: 40th Anniversary of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

December 3rd, 2018

It has been 40 years since the 1978 Amendments to the Older Americans Act required every state to have an Ombudsman Program and specifically defined Ombudsman functions and responsibilities.

In 1972, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program started out as a public health service demonstration project to meet the needs of residents facing problems in nursing homes. Today, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program consists of 53 state programs and their statewide networks of over 500 local Ombudsman entities. 

This issue includes program highlights and a full list of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program’s milestones from 1972 to 2016. The issue also includes additional materials to share the important work of the long-term care ombudsman program.

Thank you for your continued advocacy and dedication to achieving quality long-term care for the past 40 years. We welcome you to share pictures, brief comments, or quotes about your work in the long-term care ombudsman program by emailing ombudcenter@theconsumervoice.org.

Read the full NORC Notes here.

Stories from Ombudsmen

I became a volunteer ombudsman five years ago, several years after my retirement.  I credit my mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, for pointing me in that direction.  I was her primary caregiver through her last years of life.

As a result of my experience with my mother, I knew I possessed the compassion, patience and, most of all, desire to help the elderly when they are at the most weakened and powerless stage of their lives.  The formal training, counseling and support I received through the Texas Long-term Care Ombudsman Program gave me the tools, confidence and direction to become an effective advocate for nursing home residents in my community.

When I visit the residents in my assigned skilled nursing facilities, I feel privileged to enter their “homes,” spend time with them and share their thoughts and feelings.  Backed by the knowledge of their “resident rights,” I encourage them to voice their wants and needs to staff – to empower them to act on their own behalf.  And if they cannot make their voices heard, I step in to speak and act for them.

Empowerment starts small and grows.  In the five years I have been a volunteer ombudsman, perhaps the most common comment I hear from new residents is, “That’s okay.  I’m fine.”  Whether it’s waiting another 10 minutes for a call light to be answered, asking for a sweater when it’s drafty, or accepting a soggy piece of bread on their dinner plate, residents all-too-often are willing to accept things as they are, rather than ask for, or demand, something better. 

I believe that encouraging them to speak up individually – or as a group in their resident council meetings – is at the heart of my job.  Time and again, when I see residents claim their rights and discover their voices – become empowered – I feel delighted and proud to be their advocate.  It’s the best part of being an ombudsman.  

- Joyce Reid, Volunteer Ombudsman for the Alamo AAA

I love it!  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  We make a difference in our residents lives daily and we work with wonderful people – residents, fellow Ombuddies, LTC staff, and families.  I am not going to say there are days I don’t go home just wiped out and frustrated, but the “fight” is worth it – either for that resident or the next.  I have lots of great residents and stories that just make my heart happy and make me continue on those days I am thinking twice about my work. 

- Heather Armstrong, M.A., CDP, Alamo Managing Local Ombudsman, Area Agencies on Aging

"Even though I'm no longer working directly with the LTC Ombudsman program, I spent 23 years (more than 1/2 of the program's history!) administering the program at the state (Georgia) and federal (Administration for Community Living) levels. From those decades of work, I learned that there are no more passionate, committed, and inspiring folks than the ombudsmen who serve our nation's residents of long-term care facilities."

- Becky Kurtz, Manager, Aging & Independence Services, Director, Area Agency on Aging