March 17, 2020
The Department of Health and Human Services has officially designated the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program as a Health Oversight Agency, and as such, residents have a right to in-person access to ombudsman representatives to monitor their care and address their concerns, especially in a time of crisis.
NASOP Position Statement on Coronavirus
The National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs (NASOP) releases the following statement in response to the United States’ evolving situation with the coronavirus.
Our nation’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a test of its medical expertise, emergency preparedness and response capabilities, and resolve to protect vulnerable Americans. We know that older Americans, especially those with underlying medical conditions, are particularly vulnerable to death after acquiring the virus. Residential care facilities, like nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, are home to millions of Americans that are at special risk. State long-term care ombudsman programs are charged with advocating for residents of these facilities across the country, and our work is traditionally delivered at the bedside of residents to accommodate their needs and address their vulnerabilities.
With a Washington State nursing facility serving as a focal point of transmission and loss of life, everyone is concerned with containing the spread of COVID-19 to other long-term care facilities. To curtail transmission, visitation at facilities by relatives and friends is being discouraged, and virtual visitation encouraged through phone and internet connections. These measures may well prove effective in reducing transmission of coronavirus to residents, but it also creates a potentially frightening scenario for residents in need of an advocate or regulatory services. Many residents cannot participate in a video or traditional call to ask for help or respond to questions. Those who can, may be unable to have privacy to confidentially report and discuss a problem.
The strength of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is its access to residents. The program largely performs its functions in-person, often at the bedside of residents, because that is what residents need to ensure privacy, stay resident-centered, and monitor to confirm that promises made by a facility are kept. NASOP respects that State Long-Term Care Ombudsmen will develop guidance for their Ombudsman Representatives based on the situation in his or her state.
While we learn how the coronavirus affects residents and the U.S. long-term care network, it is imperative that residents continue to have access to entities vital to the protection of the health, safety, welfare, and rights of residents. NASOP stands with its state long-term care ombudsmen and will advocate to ensure that the program continues to have necessary funding and access to investigate and resolve residents’ concerns.