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How your ombudsman prevents nursing home abuse

You might have heard the word 'ombudsman,' but do you know what it really means? Further, do you understand the important role that an ombudsman may play in protecting your loved ones who are in nursing homes? These critical public servants serve as advocates against nursing home abuse, providing additional political traction and a responsive forum for airing concerns about nursing home neglect. Your Chicago community ombudsman may, in fact, be the most important person that you have never met.

In many cases, these individuals work part-time, traveling throughout Illinois to inspect nursing homes for evidence of psychological abuse or physical abuse. They manage a program that encourages resident reporting, asking the nursing home occupants about potential concerns. Further, ombudsmen try to work with the local nursing homes to build a positive environment for residents throughout the state. When a nursing home resident expresses a concern, the ombudsman will approach the nursing home operators with the issue, and the administrators will develop a plan for fixing the problem.

The best part about the services of an ombudsman: They are resident-focused. That means that the ombudsman is primarily accountable to nursing-home residents, not government officials or nursing home supervisors. As a consequence, these individuals are uniquely prepared to provide advocacy and support for residents who are suffering from nursing home abuse. These representatives deal with issues as insignificant as room changes and problems as serious as medication errors and financial exploitation. In many cases, perceived elder abuse is simply a matter of misinformation; one ombudsman said she was able to secure proper dental care for several patients by helping the nursing home seek funding for those services, for example.

Family members of Illinois nursing home residents may benefit from developing a relationship with their relatives' ombudsman. This person is an important member of a comprehensive legal team that can advocate for residents' rights and lower the rates of elder abuse at facilities throughout the state.

Source: The Times, "You're the what?: Ombudsman looks out for nursing home residents" Charles Stanley, Jan. 10, 2014

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