What Is a Healthcare Ombudsman? Ohio Guide for Facilities

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse sits down and helps a nursing home resident file some paperwork.

An ombudsman, or ombuds or ombudsperson, is a neutral party who helps resolve issues within an organization. They meet with individuals or groups to help settle conflicts or concerns. Ombudspeople facilitate issues in a number of settings, from universities to corporations to healthcare organizations.

In the long-term care setting, it can be especially effective to work with an ombudsman. Ohio long-term care residents receive quarterly visits where issues can be identified and resolved. When residents feel seen and heard, it improves their experience — and boosts resident satisfaction. In this guide, we explain the role of an ombudsman and how Ohio facilities can prepare for visits.

What Is the Ohio Ombudsman Program?

The Ohio Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is mandated by the Older Americans Act and coordinated by the Ohio Department of Aging. The program is designed to provide a consumer voice to care recipients and their families in:

  • long-term care facilities
  • nursing homes
  • adult care homes
  • home health

The goal of the program is to improve the quality of life for long-term care recipients by investigating and resolving complaints in facilities or home care settings. Ombudsmen do this by visiting residents and their families regularly. They may also conduct educational training for long-term care residents, staff, and communities on topics including:

  • ombudsman services
  • resident rights
  • elder abuse
  • neglect and exploitation

Advocating for the elderly is an essential role of an ombudsman. Ohio programs also facilitate the Senior Home Information Program (SHIP), a free service that helps seniors age safely at home.

What Does an Ohio State Ombudsman Do?

The term ombudsman comes from the Swedish word for “representative of the people.” Ohio long-term care ombudsmen are patient and resident advocates who operate independently from a healthcare organization. They represent healthcare recipients in a vulnerable position who may not have the ability to self-advocate. They do this by:

  • Listening. One of the most important skills of an ombudsperson is active listening. They hear patient and resident concerns about issues contributing to their quality of life. The ombuds are a sounding board for complaints like food, nursing care, financial concerns, or environmental issues.
  • Educating. Ombudspeople provide education about nursing home residents’ rights, such as being free from neglect, discrimination, restraints, and more. Residents and families may also discuss the best places to receive care with an ombudsman. Ohio representatives help families make informed decisions about long-term care placement by providing them with the appropriate tools and resources.
  • Advocating. Ombuds serve as an impartial liaison between residents, families, and staff to resolve issues. If a problem is identified, reps discuss it with the entire ombuds team and facility staff. Although they can’t give legal advice, the ombuds may connect residents and families with agencies or provide resources to know their rights.

Who Does a Healthcare Ombudsman Work With?

As a long-term care facility leader, you may be wondering, Who is my local ombudsman? Visit the Area Agency on Aging District Seven, which administers the Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Ohio, to find out. The state of Ohio has 11 regional ombudsman programs, which oversee facilities in their respective counties. The Ohio Ombudsman Program does not regulate care facilities — but its involvement may improve the experience for residents and staff.

To foster a positive experience at your facility, collaboration needs to take place among residents, families, and staff. When there’s a disconnect, it can lead to poor resident outcomes or dissatisfaction. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires facilities to have grievance procedures for complaints. If an issue is not resolved by facility staff or leaders, residents or their families may involve an ombudsman. CMS requires skilled nursing facilities to post the names of state ombudsman programs for residents and families to see.

Ombudsmen work with patients or residents and their families in long-term care settings, such as assisted living, nursing homes, and home health. Their involvement as impartial representatives may de-escalate issues to prevent people from filing formal complaints.

In addition to residents and their families, healthcare leaders and staff may also interact with an ombudsman. Ohio residents are encouraged to volunteer for the role. Programs like the Central Ohio Long-term Care Ombudsman Program have paid and volunteer opportunities for Ohioans interested in advocating for elderly members of their communities.

Tips for Facilities Working With a State Ombudsman

It’s essential for healthcare staff to remain compliant during site visits from an ombudsman. Ohio representatives perform quarterly advocacy visits with residents and families in long-term care settings. With cooperation from all parties, these visits can be effective at settling issues and preventing problems from escalating.

Ombudsman programs are informal, meaning they should not perform duties like:

  • creating policies
  • maintaining records
  • giving legal advice
  • taking corrective action
  • participating in formal investigations

Instead, the ombuds should collaborate with residents, families, and staff to meet agreements and de-escalate situations. Educate your staff on the role of the ombudsman so everyone is on the same page.

Stay Updated on the Latest in Long-Term Care

Long-term care facilities benefit from involving a neutral party to settle issues, such as an ombudsman. Ohio’s aging population deserves to be heard and supported — regardless of the significance of their complaints. Learn more ways to provide excellent care when you subscribe to IntelyCare’s free newsletter.