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Editorial: Elderly need a watchdog

Original source:

Ventura County Star

AB935 will fund ombudsmen

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some are old, some will be lucky enough to grow old and most of us know and care about people who are older than we are. In other words, we all have a vested interest in ensuring the elderly are properly cared for.

One organization that serves as the watchdog for thousands in residential-care and assisted-living facilities is the Long Term Care Services of Ventura County Inc. ombudsman program. For 28 years in Ventura County, volunteers in the highly regarded program have regularly checked on elderly residents’ care in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

In Ventura County, there are some 8,500 elderly residents in 234 facilities. About 60 percent of them have no relatives or friends to visit or check on them. Long-term care ombudsman programs operate statewide, but they are in jeopardy since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed $3.8 million in funding for them in the fall. That is roughly half of their funding.

Key to rescuing this vital service is Assembly Bill 935, sponsored by Assembly members Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, and Dave Jones, D-Sacramento. The Assembly Health Committee will consider the bill on Tuesday.

Thus far, local Assembly members have supported a companion bill, which passed out of the Assembly committee earlier. The Star supports Assembly Bill 935 and we urge local Assembly members Audra Strickland, Pedro Nava, Julia Brownley and Cameron Smyth to fight for it.

AB935 would restore funding to the ombudsman programs by using existing penalties paid by long-term care facilities that are cited for failing to comply with state and federal laws. It would not tap state general fund costs.

Since the penalty money is to be spent for protection of health or property of long-term heathcare facilities, it makes sense that it be spent on state ombudsman programs.

Beyond supporting AB935, The Star commends the 50 ombudsman volunteers and Sylvia Taylor Stein, executive director of the Long Term Care Services of Ventura County Inc., for the remarkable work they do.

A huge supporter of the ombudsman program is Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who told The Star Editorial Board: “It is a screaming deal for taxpayers It is the most cost-effective program I have ever touched. If government tried to provide this service checking every facility to ensure people are not abused or neglected, it would cost a fortune. No one would touch this program if they knew how effective it is.”

Ventura County is one of five ombudsmen groups leading the effort to sustain the statewide program because it planned ahead for an emergency. “We make such a difference,” Mrs. Stein said. Volunteers stay with the program, she said, explaining, “When you see these residents, you can’t walk away.”

Our Legislature and governor can’t walk away, either. They either restore the funding that was cut or they support AB935.