What Is a Healthcare Ombudsman? Alaska Guide for Facilities

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Written by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nursing home care worker helps a resident walk down the hallway.

In response to repeated cases of abuse and neglect of residents in U.S. nursing homes, Congress created the Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program to help improve the safety and quality of care across LTC settings. Under this program, each state is responsible for overseeing a system to investigate complaints against LTC facilities by an ombudsman. Alaska, in particular, resolves a wide range of issues involving older adults as well as the general public.

If you’re an LTC facility leader in Alaska, it’s helpful to understand what your healthcare ombudsman does to best prepare for potential interactions with them. We’ll provide an overview of what the ombudsman program is and how it relates to your facility’s operations.

What Is the Alaska Ombudsman Program?

The general definition of an ombudsman is an individual who serves as an impartial party to investigate and settle complaints made by individuals against organizations. In the state of Alaska, ombudsman services address a variety of issues, even beyond long-term care. To understand the state’s program at large, it’s important to first make the distinction between the Alaska state ombudsman and the long-term care ombudsman office.

  • The Alaska state ombudsmanis an elected official who serves as a neutral party to investigate issues filed by Alaskan citizens. These issues can cover a range of residential topics, from fishery management to child care licensing.
  • The long-term care ombudsman is housed in a separate office that specializes in advocating for and protecting the rights of older adults receiving LTC services. This office is overseen by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

As facility leaders will most likely be interacting with the long-term care ombudsman, we’ll be discussing services more specific to this office. However, if you’re looking for more general help about residential life in Alaska, complaints can be submitted on the website of the state ombudsman. Alaska residents can also contact the office directly via telephone or email.

What Does a LTC Ombudsman Do?

Regarding long-term care, Alaska ombudsmen are primarily trained to identify, investigate, and resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, residents about facilities. Under Alaska law, LTC ombudsmen are also authorized to resolve problems relating to the at-home living conditions of adults over the age of 60.

LTC ombudsmen are typically government-appointed staff or volunteers. Beyond investigating and resolving complaints, these individuals are also equipped to:

  • Educate long-term care facilities and providers about resident rights
  • Regularly visit and monitor the conditions at various LTC facilities
  • Guide residents through the regulatory process of filing complaints
  • Teach older adults and their families how to advocate for their own rights

What Types of Issues Does a LTC Ombudsman Resolve?

An LTC ombudsman will generally aid anyone who’s concerned about the rights of older adults in their own homes, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities. Residents, families, friends, or LTC staff can submit complaints to the ombudsman using this online form. The most common complaints that the LTC ombudsman office receives involve:

  • Appeals on discharge and evacuation
  • Issues with guardian or legal representatives
  • Untimely responses to requests for assistance
  • Restrictive housing placements
  • Inability to exercise rights and personal choice
  • Issues surrounding food services

If you’re a facility leader looking to improve your operations or have questions about the rights of your residents, you can also reach out to your local ombudsman. Alaska provides the phone number and contact information for the office directly on their LTC ombudsman website.

Tips for Facilities Working With an LTC Ombudsman

If the LTC ombudsman receives a complaint about your facility, they’ll need to conduct an investigation to resolve the problem. While this may feel like a stressful situation, the ombudsman’s fundamental goal is to work collaboratively with you and help improve your operations. To make this process go as quickly and smoothly as possible, follow these tips:

  • Communicate. Be open and transparent about the situation by giving the ombudsman any necessary information to resolve the issue at hand. This will help both of you get to the root of the problem and address it in a timely manner.
  • Be respectful. If the ombudsman identifies any issues, it’s important to remain respectful and listen to any advice that they give regarding your operations. Any guidance the ombudsman provides is in the best interests of your facility and residents.
  • Act accordingly. This is an opportunity to improve the safety and quality of your care. Act on the advice of the ombudsman and modify your operations as necessary. This can help prevent similar issues in the future and enhance quality of life for your residents.

Learn More About How to Improve Care for Your Residents

Seeking practical ways to implement the advice of your ombudsman? Alaska facility leaders can start here. Don’t miss out on IntelyCare’s free resources and guides designed to help you improve the quality of care at your facility.