What Is a Healthcare Ombudsman? Florida Guide for Facilities

Image of content creator smiling at the camera
Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse meets with a nursing home resident in her room.

Florida, the retirement capital of the U.S., is home to one-fourth of elderly Americans. With a steady influx of older adults — and plenty of residential facilities to choose from — how can your long-term care facility stand out as the best place for a retiree to spend their golden years? It starts by making each individual feel at home and fully supported.

The Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) is an advocacy program for residents in long-term care facilities. It provides specialized training for a type of volunteer called an ombudsman. Florida volunteers visit residents to be a support person and identify ways to improve their quality of life. Read about how an ombudsman helps residents and can bring positive reviews to your facility.

What Is the Florida Ombudsman Program?

The LTCOP of Florida, directed by the Department of Elder Affairs, contains 13 district offices across the state. The program consists of volunteers and district managers who oversee each ombudsman. Florida citizens seeking to improve the quality of life for long-term care residents may volunteer for the role. Ombudsmen advocate for residents in nursing homes, assisted living, and adult family care homes.

The purpose of the program is to protect residents’ rights and ensure they get fair treatment and care. Since it’s a confidential and unbiased service, an ombudsman must have no affiliation with a facility to be eligible. This includes being employed by or having a loved one in their assigned facility.

What Does a Florida State Ombudsman Do?

Any concerned resident, relative, or staff member at a long-term care facility can contact an ombudsman. Florida law authorizes representatives to identify, investigate, and resolve complaints. The services are always free and confidential.

Florida ombudsmen prevent or identify problems proactively by:

  • teaching residents and families about resident rights
  • informing the public about issues with facilities
  • facilitating family councils
  • lobbying for laws that support seniors

They may handle issues in a residential care facility reactively by:

  • identifying issues
  • investigating complaints
  • resolving problems
  • connecting residents with services (such as financial, social, or legal support)

Although an essential aspect of their role is to educate an individual about their rights and resources as they pertain to their situation, an ombudsman does not give legal advice. However, they may connect residents or their families with legal professionals if necessary.

Who Does a Healthcare Ombudsman Work With?

An ombudsman primarily works with residents in long-term care facilities. They may also meet with family members or staff to investigate complaints. When working with residents, an ombudsperson identifies issues affecting their quality of life. Some issues could be resolved with a simple change, like moving to a different dining table at mealtime. However, an ombudsman also may identify serious cases of neglect or abuse, which they’re trained and certified to handle from a neutral standpoint.

Outside of the care setting, an ombudsman collaborates with other volunteers, program managers, and council members to keep the programs operating smoothly. They’re also spokespeople in the community, providing public education about residents’ rights in long-term care facilities.

Tips for Facilities Working With a State Ombudsman

It’s important for facilities to remember you have an ally in an ombudsman. Florida volunteers are there to make the experience better for residents and improve resources within a facility. Their services can lighten the load of direct care staff, who may already be experiencing heavy workloads.

An ombudsman may also have the resources to resolve a resident’s complaint before they file a formal grievance. An expression of dissatisfaction is not only damaging to a healthcare facility’s reputation, but it can lead to CMS fines — a costly and preventable expense for facilities. According to one report, the Florida Ombudsman Program saved the state $475,876 In one year alone.

Be aware that an ombudsman investigation could uncover issues in a facility that lead to legal action. Part of an ombudsman’s role is to perform annual assessments at residential care facilities. While they’re not the same as state accreditation surveys, facilities should be prepared for these informal visits in case an ombudsman identifies a safety issue. Facility leaders can prepare for a visit by:

  • making sure safety standards are up-to-date in accordance with CMS laws and regulations
  • reporting any instances of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation to the Florida Abuse Hotline, an affiliate of the Department of Elder Affairs
  • taking a collaborative approach with the ombudsman and being compliant with their investigation requests

Find More Ways to Support Long-Term Care Residents

Residents in your long-term care facility are like family. No matter how much your staff makes them feel at home, many residents don’t have the ability to speak up for themselves — which is why it’s important to welcome the support of an ombudsman. Florida volunteers are committed to improving the experience for everyone in your facility, and IntelyCare is too. Read about other ways to improve the resident experience by signing up for IntelyCare’s free newsletter.