What Is a Healthcare Ombudsman? Virginia Guide for Facilities

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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As a long-term care facility leader, you have a responsibility to ensure your residents maintain the best possible quality of life in your facility. It’s essential to create an environment that allows them to age with dignity and maintain autonomy in their everyday lives.

Running a healthcare facility is complex and brings constant challenges — and factors like short staffing and a tight budget can make your role even more difficult. That’s why it can be beneficial to work with your local healthcare ombudsman. Virginia’s programs are committed to improving the quality of life for residents in your facility. Read about the services that an ombudsman for nursing homes can offer your residents, your facility, and how collaborating with these professionals can ultimately improve resident satisfaction and quality of life.

What Is the Virginia Ombudsman Program?

The Virginia Long-term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) is an advocacy group made up of paid and volunteer citizens throughout the state. Representatives seek to be a voice for those who may not be able to speak for themselves. Whether an older adult is aging at home or in a care facility, they benefit from the support of these trained professionals.

Centered around federal regulations for residents’ rights, the LTCOP seeks to ensure older adults receive good care and have a say in their daily lives. An ombudsman advocates for residents’ rights in environments such as:

  • nursing homes
  • assisted living facilities
  • home care
  • hospice
  • adult day care

It’s important for older adults to understand that no matter where they live, their rights as a citizen don’t go away. Virginia ombudsman programs seek to educate residents and their families about their rights while advocating for them at the local level and beyond.

What Does a Virginia State Ombudsman Do?

Although the central theme of their role is advocacy, there’s much more that goes into being an ombudsman. Virginia programs place emphasis on affecting change through legal processes, which allows state representatives to protect resident rights at the highest level. They also take measures to improve the environment in a long-term care setting to prevent issues from occurring.

Each representative has a professional responsibility as an ombudsman, meaning their duties cover things like:

  • Educating. Representatives provide education to residents, families, and staff. They cover topics like elder rights, advocacy, and assistance with resolving problems. Although an ombudsman does not give legal advice, they may assist residents in exercising their rights.
  • Problem-solving. An ombudsman is trained to investigate and resolve problems on behalf of residents receiving long-term care. They may also serve as mediators between residents and care providers.
  • Affecting culture change. Virginia ombudsmen seek to make long-term care facilities feel more like homes than medical facilities. Their emphasis on promoting individualized care helps contribute to culture change.
  • Advocating for legislative change. Ombudsmen advocate for resident rights by seeking legal and administrative solutions to issues. This involves representing older adults before governmental agencies or collaborating with community partners to advocate for change. An ombudsman may also monitor laws and regulations that impact care and suggest changes when necessary.

Who Does a Healthcare Ombudsman Work With?

A long-term care ombudsman works with individuals or groups as part of their mission for advocacy. Within a facility, they meet with patients or residents, family, staff, and executive team members. They also interact with local communities to provide public education on issues surrounding elder rights.

Staff within a healthcare facility should know that an ombudsman doesn’t visit them with negative intentions. The purpose of their work in a facility is to:

  • ensure older adults maintain independence, autonomy, and dignity
  • support positive culture change
  • create incentives for providers who follow through with proposed changes
  • help stabilize a facility’s workforce to ensure residents get adequate care

Tips for Facilities Working With a State Ombudsman

To prepare for a potential visit, facility leaders can educate staff about the benefits of collaborating with an ombudsman. Virginia representatives are committed to making long-term care facilities a better place for residents and staff. Direct care providers should feel comfortable discussing matters that may contribute to resident issues, such as their workflows or staffing levels.

Facility leaders can educate staff about ombudsman services and issues they may address, such as:

  • Conflict resolution. Long-term care residents are advised to express concerns to staff before escalating concerns to an ombudsman. Nursing home and assisted living staff may benefit from training on topics such as effective communication and service recovery.
  • Formal grievances. Ombudsmen may educate residents, patients, or families on how to file a formal complaint if necessary. Long-term care staff should be trained about what happens when a grievance, or complaint, is filed. Having an understanding of the implications of grievances helps staff to be mindful of preventing potential issues.
  • How to reach an ombudsman. These services are available to improve the long-term care atmosphere. Anyone, including staff members, can issue a concern to an ombudsman. Virginia long-term care agencies are organized at the city or county level and can be reached through their local ombudsman office.

Discover More Ways to Support Long-Term Care Residents

As a healthcare leader, your top priority is improving the quality of life for residents or patients in your facility. This is possible with the help of a long-term care ombudsman. Virginia’s ombudsman program can help you solve the root-cause issues that impact your residents and improve overall care. Find out more ways to support long-term care residents when you sign up for IntelyCare’s free newsletter.