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State ombudsmen seek to protect nursing home residents

With so many of Illinois' elderly living in nursing homes, more residents are becoming aware of elder abuse incidents that have occurred in nursing homes. In order to provide advocacy for those who rely on nursing homes for their well-being, many states, including Illinois, have an ombudsman program in place to help protect those who require long-term care.

The ombudsman for the state of New Mexico discussed exactly what the job entailed. According to the report released on March 5, her team of 11 members and more than 100 trained volunteers were responsible for regularly visiting nursing homes. In addition to speaking with family members, residents and workers, the ombudsman also was responsible for dealing with new policies that could infringe on the rights of nursing home residents in her state.

The main job of the state ombudsman is to ensure that residents have access to comfortable lives. Ombudsmen are interested in ensuring that residents' needs are met, that they have access to different food choices and that they can communicate effectively with staff. The New Mexico ombudsman noted that, for example, many of the residents are Navajo and do not speak fluent English; thus, she is concerned with ensuring these residents have access to a translator who understands their personal cultural needs.

According to the ombudsman, most nursing homes do not have a problem with abuse; they often do, however, have issues with neglect. Neglect may include malnutrition, dehydration and injuries suffered from falls. If a resident becomes injured or suffers a medical emergency due to neglect, the resident or their family members may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the nursing home and the staff members involved in the neglect. An attorney may use the injured resident's hospital records and other evidence to determine if there is a case.

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