By David Shivers
The elderly and disabled in long-term care are among the most vulnerable members of society. They often need someone to guard their rights and defend them against abusive behavior.
Elaine Wilson, an ombudsman residential advocate who has worked with Sowega Council on Aging for 15 years, recently detailed for members of the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County what forms abuse can take and how they can help victims of such behavior.
“Ombudsman”, according to Wilson, comes from a Swedish word that means “citizen representative.” An ombudsman works to increase the responsiveness of organizations such as nursing homes, personal care or assisted living facilities, community living arrangements or intermediate care for the mentally disabled to people they serve.
“We are under federal and state mandate to visit these homes,” Wilson stated.
Among the responsibilities of the long-term care ombudsman are: investigating and working to resolve problems or complaints affecting long-term care facility residents; identifying problem areas and advocating for change; providing information about long-term care and related services; promoting resident, family, and community involvement; educating the community about the needs of long-term care residents; coordinating efforts with other agencies; visiting facilities to talk to residents and monitor conditions; and educating facility staff about resident rights and other issues.
Abuses of long-term care residents fall into a number of categories, said Wilson, including physical abuse, neglect, sexual, financial, and psychological.
Financial abuse, Wilson said, “is one of the greatest abuses we have,” particularly identity theft. Her office has worked with law enforcement agencies to train officers to recognize and defend against these and other abuses.
The ombudsman progam “is vitally important to law-enforcement officers,” Wilson maintained.
Anyone with a particular concern about a long-term facility or an individual resident’s care or treatment has a number of toll-free assistance options available, depending on the circumstance, to report suspected abuse. These include:
Abuse of an older adult or person with a disability in the community: Adult Protective Services, 1-888-774-0152.
Abuse of an older adult or person with a disability in a long-term care facility: Healthcare Facility Regulation, 1-800-878-6442.
To contact a Long-term Care Ombudsman: 1-888-454-5826,
Reporting Medicare and Medicaid fraud, error, and abuse: GeorgiaCares SMP Program, 1-800-669-8387.
For mental-health disabled patients, the Department of Behavior Health and Developmental Disabilities Georgia Crisis and Access Line, 1-800-715-4225; or the Office of the Disability Services Ombudsman, 1-866-424-7577.
Additional information can also be obtained on-line at www.georgiaombudsman.org.
PHOTO BY DAVID SHIVERS
Ombudsman Elaine Wilson points out agencies and phone numbers available for reporting abuses of the elderly and disabled in various long-term care situations.