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"Ax hangs over ombudsman program"

The Eureka Reporter

By CAROL HARRISON, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Oct 4 2008, 12:11 AM - Updated: Oct 4 2008, 12:13 AM
Category: Local News

Creative thinking may be all that keeps the ombudsman program advocating for seniors in residential care facilities from going under.

"The ombudsman program is essential. It is being eviscerated and we had no advance warning," said Cindy Denbo, executive director for the Area 1 Agency on Aging.

Denbo said the state budget for 2008–09 eliminates all state funding – $34,000 – for the program.

That equals 41.6 percent of the budget for a program charged to investigate and resolve complaints made by and on behalf of those in long-term care facilities.

"By definition, those are the most fragile and frail among us," Denbo said. "We’ll meet early next week to see what this means and, hopefully, figure out a way to keep it going."

Cynthia Ross, co-coordinator of the local program, said the staff of 15 trained volunteers and two part–timers monitors 1,500 beds in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

"We talk about programs being a continuum of care from the most active seniors to the most frail," said Joyce Hayes, executive director of the Humboldt Senior Resource Center. "This is at the very end, chopping the last line of care for people who can’t speak for themselves."

Hayes said the delay in the state budget means the program has been operating for three months counting on money it doesn’t have.

The last two days saw Hayes and Denbo in multi–hour conference calls with the state Department of Aging to determine the impact of the budget surprise.

"We have three–fourths of a year to run on half the funding we expected," Hayes said. "Don’t ask me to tell you how we are going to do that. We have to figure out what can be provided with what dollars. Regardless, it is not going to meet the needs that are vital in these two counties."