Critics Say Long-Term Care Ombudsman Not Advocating for Nursing Home Residents

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on March 6, 2018 in Nursing Home Abuse
Updated on April 25, 2024

gavel on ombudsman bookIowa’s long-term care ombudsman is being criticized for not doing enough to advocate for the well-being of the state’s 543,000 nursing home residents.

For example, the ombudsman has not lobbied lawmakers about any bills for nursing home residents and does not plan to introduce new legislation. She also does not have any plans for workers to resume on-site visits of Iowa nursing homes.

Critics are also concerned about the fact that ombudsman Cynthia Pederson has not asked the governor for more funding since last summer’s budget cuts.  

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State Budget Cuts

Last summer’s budget cuts resulted in cuts to the staff in the ombudsman’s office. Fourteen months ago, there were 17 employees and now there are only 12.  

The budget cuts also forced the ombudsman’s office to eliminate almost all spending on travel, including for on-site visits. This has resulted in regional ombudsmen conducting investigations into complaints by phone.

There was a budget hearing in November where Pederson could have submitted a budget proposal requesting more funding to allow for on-site visits. However, agencies of the executive branch of government were asked to submit zero-growth budgets and Pederson did that.

Pederson was actually commended by the governor for finding alternative ways to investigate nursing homes instead of on-site visits.

Pederson reportedly told the governor many seniors are not comfortable with technology and prefer face-to-face communication.  

Ending on-site visits is not only bad for nursing home residents, but may also be against the law. Under Iowa state law, regional ombudsmen are required to visit nursing facilities to observe daily routines, meals and activities, even if there are no complaints to investigate.

Unfortunately, visits to observe daily routines have only happened twice in the past eight months. If Pederson’s new budget request is approved, these visits will not be occurring for at least 16 more months.

Advocating for Legislation

The former chairwoman of the Iowa Consumer Olmstead Task Force, which advocates for people with disabilities, has criticized Pederson for not proposing or commenting on legislation.

For example, there is a bill in the state senate that would require Pederson to study the option of implementing financial penalties against nursing homes for quality-of-care violations. This could be a source of revenue that would allow for more on-site visits.

However, Pederson’s office has not released a comment on this bill or others that concern her office. Pederson has said it is too soon for her to lobby for legislation. She says she is still getting an understanding of what the office needs to be doing and does not want to make a bad decision that would have a negative impact on seniors.

Is the Ombudsman Controlled by the Department of Aging?

The actions of the ombudsman’s office have caused some to question whether the office is actually independent, as it is supposed to be.

A consultant who focuses on issues affecting older Iowa residents says Pederson’s inaction shows her office is an extension of the Department on Aging. This department is part of the executive branch and is controlled by the governor.

This criticism is disputed by Linda Miller, director of the Iowa Department on Aging. She says the ombudsman’s office operates without her office’s interference.

However, recent history may call that into question. For instance, last August, the assistant director of the Department on Aging complained in an email to Miller about an annual report from the ombudsman’s office. The email said the report should not have gone out without being reviewed by the Department on Aging.

The Department on Aging has also not stated why it withheld more than $200,000 of an annual allotment of grant money that is typically given to the ombudsman’s office. The denial of this money, along with state spending cuts were the reasons why the ombudsman’s office had to end on-site visits.

Contact an Attorney Today for a Free Consultation

Has your elderly loved one suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home?

Contact our firm for a free legal consultation to discuss your legal options. Our personal injury lawyers may be able to pursue compensation for medical bills and other damages.

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