Too many Iowans are not aware of what the office is charged to do, and those who do use it are being inadequately served.
The Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or OSLTCO — the state office with the mission to advocate for and support the tens of thousands of vulnerable Iowans who reside in long-term care facilities throughout the state — is failing to do its job.
The office is in turmoil. Leadership at the OSLTCO is not adequately communicating with or supporting front line staff. Morale among staff and volunteers has tanked. Too many Iowans are not familiar with what the OSLTCO does, and therefore don’t use its services. Too many Iowans who do use it are being inadequately served because of staff reductions and travel budget cuts.
It’s an unacceptable situation. Change is needed, and needed promptly.
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We’re led to this conclusion by what we’ve been hearing from concerned residents of long-term care facilities, Iowans who volunteer to visit those residents, current and former staff of the OSLTCO, as well as advocates for older Iowans and people with disabilities.
Their concerns focus on:
- A total breakdown in communications and teamwork within the office. No, we repeat, no, meetings between the head of the office and all staff have been held in the past two years. Repeated requests from staff to meet with the head of the OSLTCO have not been responded to.
- Continued reductions in staff needed to respond to complaints from residents in over 800-plus facilities. (In 2016, the Ombudsman’s office had 16 employees. Today, it has 11.)
- The recent proposal by the OSLTCO and the Department on Aging to outsource six of these 11 positions to another entity, and the failure to notify and get input from any stakeholders.
- Too few unannounced visits to facilities to talk informally with residents about the quality of care they receive and concerns they have.
- Significant reductions in dollars needed for staff to travel to facilities. (Current staff travel is limited to 150 miles a month, in many cases not enough for one staff member to visit one facility).
- Office leadership’s failure to be assertive in requesting the state funds, or the additional federal funds available, needed to effectively serve Iowans.
- An absence of advocacy on behalf of residents of long-term care facilities by office leadership at the Legislature, and a lack of visibility of the OSLTCO in the media talking about issues and concerns.
- Confusion over what laws and regulations say about both the independence of the OSLTCO, and the authorities to hire and fire the person who heads it.
The concerns shared with us have also been shared with the OSLTCO, the Department on Aging, the Commission on Aging, the governor’s office, the State Ombudsman’s Office (the office that exists to investigate complaints about any entity of state government), state legislators, and various others.
Source: Des Moines Register