Editorial: Those in nursing homes need full-time advocates
Oct 15, 2019
A shortage of people who act as advocates for those in nursing homes, documented last week in a story in the Times Herald-Record, contained several surprises for those who are not well-versed on the subject, most likely most of us.
As shown in a report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, 160,000 people live in 1,500 long-term care facilities in New York, including nursing and adult homes. At the start of this year, about 600 of the state’s long-term care facilities had an assigned volunteer ombudsman.
That means nursing homes, which are far too often in the news because of complaints from those who live there and their families, which charge the kind of fees that bankrupt families and inspire others to rearrange their finances to avoid losing homes and assets, are being scrutinized most often not by trained and paid professionals but by volunteers.
And it gets worse.
The other 900 facilities without a volunteer are being served by only 50 paid full-time ombudsmen. It turns out that 50 is about half of the number recommended by state guidelines. Local numbers were just as disturbing, with 40 long-term care facilities in Orange County, three in Sullivan and five in Ulster without an ombudsman as of January. The region had three full-time ombudsmen in 2018 instead of the recommended four and a half.
To put this in perspective from a different point of view, before the Boeing 737 Max airplane was grounded following two fatal crashes, most who were not familiar with this aspect of safety would have assumed that any such crucial systems would be the subject of rigorous, outside scrutiny before passengers were allowed to board. It turned out that the airplane manufacturers were pretty much on their own to certify their own compliance, and we know how that turned out with Boeing.
It appears that the same trusting system works just as well with nursing homes. As we learned when a company came in and bought several in the region in the past year, this is an industry which requires regular outside scrutiny to make sure that those who rely on it get what they deserve.
A paid ombudsman or other professional might not be able to force a nursing home to hire adequate staff or meet standards for care and cleanliness, but it would make sure that any shortcomings were noticed and reported, that those who live there and their families would have access to more than a hotline to report problems.
The comptroller has done all New Yorkers a service in calculating this shortfall. But he needs to do more than issue a call for more volunteers.
With the amount of money being spent on nursing homes, there is no reason that we cannot have more trained people at the service of the patients and their families, helping to make sure that the deficiencies that show up on annual state inspections are noted and addressed long before.
Relying on volunteer ombudsmen at nursing homes makes about as much sense as relying on airplane manufacturers to provide their own inspectors to ensure safety.