Wolk bill strengthens independence, accountability of CA Long-term Care Ombudsman program

May 01, 2012

Unanimous, bipartisan support for bill to better protect long-term care residents

SACRAMENTO—Legislation to strengthen the independence and accountability of the state’s politically-appointed Long-term Care Ombudsman, who defends the rights, safety, and welfare of the state’s long-term care residents, won the unanimous, bipartisan support in the Assembly’s Committee on Aging and Long Term Care today.

“We need to ensure that the State Ombudsman can advocate freely on behalf of facility residents, who often do not have a voice,” said Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), author of Senate Bill 345. “This measure will build more efficiency into the ombudsman’s office and better protect California’s long-term care residents.”

SB 345 would strengthen the ability of State Ombudsman’s Office to act independently from its supervising agency, the California Department of Aging, while fulfilling the ombudsman’s state and federally mandated responsibilities of investigating long-term care resident complaints, protecting the legal rights of residents, advocating for systematic change, and publicizing issues of importance to residents. 

Wolk’s SB 345 includes several recommendations to strengthen the advocacy role of the State Ombudsman’s office made by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes and the Senate Office of Research.  The bill updates California law to bring the state into conformity with federal statute dealing with the State Ombudsman’s office. Among other things, SB 345 requires the ombudsman’s office to develop an annual advocacy report, reestablishes an inactive advisory council, and ensures the Office maintains an internet website with information for consumers on long-term care.

The independence of long-term care ombudsman is not only an issue in California. A study performed by the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs in 2007 indicated that 42 percent of State Ombudsman were discouraged from conducting systems-level advocacy by their state department on aging. In Iowa, an ombudsman openly admitted that her work was restricted by her supervising agency. In Florida, an ombudsman was forced to resign after aggressively championing residents’ rights.

SB 345, which will next be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, is being sponsored by the Committee for an Independent State Ombudsman Office and is supported by the State Ombudsman, numerous county ombudsman programs, as well as such groups as California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, the California Commission on Aging, California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Association, and the California Senior Legislature.