Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office fails to do its job
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
The Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (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 due to staff reductions and travel budget cuts.
It’s an unacceptable situation. Change is needed, and needed promptly.
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+ 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 6 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 has failed 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 visability 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.
So here’s the question – who will do something about this?
The Executive Branch (the Governor’s Office, the Department on Aging, etc.) could, but these are the offices that have allowed the situation to get to this point. When we and others have asked them to address the issues, they respond by either denying that problems exist, saying they have no jurisdiction or authority, or by passing the buck.
Then there’s the Legislative Branch of state government – those we elect to serve us in the Iowa House of Representatives or the Iowa Senate. They have the authority to not only investigate and give visibility to the issues, but also to deal with them through the budgeting process by either reducing or providing additional funds to the OSLTCO.
We believe the Iowa Legislature needs to step up to the plate. A new legislative session is set to begin in a few weeks, and we urge legislators to dig into what’s going at the OSLTCO, identify the problems, and take the actions needed to give Iowans what they deserve – an OSLTCO that is adequately resourced, runs smoothly and effectively, and provides exceptional service to residents of long-term care facilities.
The current state of affairs at the OSLTCO is intolerable. The functions of the office and the people being served are too important to allow serious concerns to go unaddressed.
John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy, consulting and communications firm focused on older Iowans, Iowans with disabilities, and the caregivers who support them. Contact email@example.com