"Budget cuts slash inspections for OC nursing homes"
The Orange County Register
The county's nonprofit Council on Aging laid off most of its employees this week.
BY COURTNEY PERKES
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The nonprofit advocacy group that pays surprise visits to nursing homes and investigates complaints of elder abuse in Orange County eliminated most of its workforce this week because of state budget cuts.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed $3.8 million in funds for long-term care ombudsman programs across California when he signed the budget last month. As a result, Orange County's Council on Aging lost $321,266 or about half of its funding, said Marcia Williams, director of the ombudsman program.
Fourteen employees were laid off this week, leaving only three, including Williams. The ombudsman office visits the county's 1,050 facilities and handles complaints ranging from cold food to sexual abuse. Additionally, office staff must legally witness all advance directive requests signed by patients in nursing homes to spell out their wishes for medical intervention.
"We are the voice for the vulnerable elderly and dependent adults who cannot speak for themselves," Williams said. "We're going to have to back off on how many times we go to visit facilities. That leaves those residents at risk of being neglected or abused."
The program serves the 30,000 adults living in Orange County nursing or residential care homes. Last year, ombudsman staff and volunteers made more than 8,000 unannounced visits and investigated about 450 cases of suspected abuse, the majority of which were confirmed.
The office does not have regulatory powers, but long-term care facilities must allow them to enter and meet with residents in private.
Santa Ana resident Gloria Saldivar is sad and worried about the cutbacks.
She called the ombudsman program a month ago after panicking when her 85-year-old mother's nursing home gave her less than a week's notice to move out. Saldivar learned that the facility was required to give 30 days notice and her ombudsman spoke to the home on her behalf.
"It's a godsend," she said. "When you go into a nursing facility, the administrative part is always so difficult to understand."
When staffers find problems, Williams said they either work with the home to find solutions or might report their findings to police or the state agencies that license them.
Recently Williams said ombudsman staff intervened on behalf of a man in a nursing home who was unable to speak and was struggling to eat. He was given a feeding tube against his wishes. Williams said her office was able to arrange for him to eat pureed food.
"The ombudsman worked with the facility and the doctor and they were able to remove the feeding tube," she said. "He's much better. His rights were respected."
Orange County's ombudsman program, which is also funded by the federal government and private donations, was started in 1976.
Williams said volunteers will become even more crucial to the future of the office. For more information, call 714-479-0107, or see www.coaoc.org