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AARP report: State ombudsman program for nursing homes is underfunded

Medical worker makes sure elderly lady stands firm while walking.
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AARP New York is advocating for a $15 million dollar increase in the state budget for an ombudsman program for nursing homes

More than half of the long-term care facilities in New York state did not get a single visit from a state-sponsored ombudsman program during a three-month period in 2022.

That’s according to AARP New York, which is calling on the state to increase funding for that program by $15 million in the next state budget.

AARP lobbyist Bill Ferris said this program supports nursing home residents, especially those who may not have family visiting them on a regular basis.

“This program is designed to have an advocate in every facility in the state, to be the voice of that resident,” said Ferris. “And sometimes these residents don’t have a strong voice, literally. And the ombudsman is the voice and they try to resolve any issues for that resident in the nursing home.”

The state’s ombudsman program uses a combination of volunteers and some paid staffers. It is administered by non-profit organizations around the state, and in the Rochester area, it is run by the organization Lifespan, whose President and CEO Ann Marie Cook notes that many of the volunteers dropped out of the program during the peak of the pandemic.

“Really, COVID decimated the volunteer aspect of this program,” said Cook. “But in all honesty, it was time anyway to professionalize this critical service to make sure that older adults and long term care are adequately cared for.”

Cook notes that Lifespan is trying to oversee the ombudsman program for a region of nine counties with just five paid staffers and about 40 volunteers.

Among the state lawmakers backing AARP’s call for more state funding for the ombudsman program is Assemblymember Sarah Clark, who is a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Aging.

She said the ombudsman program “simply cannot operate to its potential at the rate of current funding,” and Clark said the proposed additional $15 million in state funding would allow for consistent visits to long-term care facilities across the state.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.