Opinion

Funding cuts will hurt the elderly in S. King County | Guest column

By Tricia Schug, Communication manager, Multi-Service Center

If Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed $327,000 slash of annual funding for the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program goes into effect, thousands of vulnerable older adults in South King County will be at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The statewide Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP), operated by Multi-Service Center in Federal Way, is made up of a network of trained volunteers, local professional ombudsmen and community members who advocate for people living in long-term care facilities.

The program works to ensure that residents in long-term care facilities receive good quality of life and care by providing information to consumers about their rights as residents, by working to resolve problems on behalf of residents, and by advocating for improvements in the long-term care system.

The LTCOP has already sustained a recent $612,000 permanent cut in federal funding this year. This additional cut proposed by the governor will mean a total of 48-percent slash to the program.

What’s at stake? If the cut goes through as planned, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program will lose regional offices that provide technical support and guidance to 400 certified ombudsmen who ensure the safety and quality care of residents living in nursing homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities across the state.

Regional offices are critical in their support of the 400 ombudsmen. Without regional support, there will be a decrease in investigations and resolutions of resident complaints, as well as a loss of support for families and support for volunteer ombudsmen. Protections of residents will be lost.

LTCOP makes a difference. Last year, volunteer ombudsmen with LTCOP made 20,631 routine visits to 3,676 of the state’s long-term care facilities. While on these visits, ombudsmen:

• Meet one-on-one with residents to speak confidentially with them about their care

• Facilitate communication between facilities and residents

• Provide consultations to family members about resident concerns and much more

In 2010, ombudsmen investigated 5,538 complaints on behalf of 3,746 individuals. Complaints range from problems with care, violations of resident rights, and inappropriate discharges or evictions. Most complaints (70 percent) were resolved by ombudsmen — a low-cost solution that actually saves the state money.

Action is needed. South King County and Federal Way voters are urged to contact their elected officials today to ask that the budget for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program be preserved.

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To learn more, contact Patricia Hunter, State Ombudsman, Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Multi-Service Center: (253) 838-6810, ext. 174.

 

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