The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 10 percent of nursing home residents in the U.S. – that’s more than 184,000 people. The pandemic highlighted that many facilities have inadequate staffing, not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and poor infection control. Families have been frustrated by concern for their loved ones, but unable to actually enter the facilities to see conditions for themselves during much of the pandemic. However, there is help available through the Indiana Long-Term Care Ombudsman program.

The free state program consists of a network of regional, certified long-term care ombudsmen around the state.  They are trained to take complaints and assist nursing home and certified assistant living facility residents to resolve problems involving quality of care, use of chemical or physical restraints, transfer and discharge, abuse and other aspects of resident rights.

Spotting Elder Abuse

Nearly one in 10 American senior citizens is abused or neglected each year according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Community Living. This abuse can occur in a person’s own home, a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The most common warning signs of elder abuse include:

  • Unexplained financial loss;
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries;
  • Presence of new and older bruises at the same time;
  • Dehydration;
  • Isolation;
  • Depression or anxiety;
  • Verbal abuse;
  • Threats;
  • Changes in mood or behavior;
  • Rapid decline in health;
  • Sudden confusion;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Neglecting care needs; and/or
  • Hesitation to speak openly.

If you have concerns about elder abuse, neglect, self-neglect or exploitation please contact Adult Protective Services at 1-800-992-6978. If someone is in imminent danger, call 911 immediately.

Long-term Care Ombudsman are available to help with issues where a long-term care resident’s rights may be being violated and help work toward a solution.

Your Rights

If a nursing home participates in Medicare or Medicaid – and most do – it must meet requirements “to promote and protect the rights of each resident.” This means nursing homes are required to care for their residents in a way that enhances the quality of life for residents, respects their dignity and ensures they are able to make choices for themselves.

Established by federal law, the “Residents’ Bill of Rights” states that if you live in a nursing home, you are entitled to certain rights including:

  • Right to be informed about and exercise their rights
  • Right to know about services and financial charges
  • Right to participate in planning their care and treatment
  • Right to refuse treatment
  • Right to confidentiality of records
  • Right to privacy
  • Right to control their finances
  • Right to freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation
  • Right to freedom from chemical and physical restraints
  • Right to express grievances without fear of retaliation
  • Rights pertaining to admissions, transfers, and discharges, including the right to appeal
  • Right to communicate freely with persons of their choice.

When to Call a Long-Term Care Ombudsman

If you suspect that a nursing home resident’s rights are being violated, don’t hesitate to call the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office. Residents, their families and others can contact the ombudsman program to better understand long-term care resident rights, learn more about community resources and work through problems. You can contact the ombudsman program by calling 1-800-622-4484 or emailing LongTermCareOmbudsman@ombudsman.IN.gov. The office warns that it may take a few days for someone to get back with you.

The most common reasons that people call the office are:

  • Problems with care — call lights not being answered, problems with medication being administered, poor hygiene, etc.
  • Violations of rights — privacy issues, loss of dignity issues, poor staff attitudes, emotional and verbal abuses, etc.
  • Problems with transfers and discharges — improperly discharged, service fees not disclosed, refused readmission, Medicaid discrimination, etc.

 Before You Call

Be sure you have the following information available before you contact the ombudsman’s office

  • The name of the resident(s).
  • Your name and contact information (unless you prefer to remain anonymous).
  • The name and city where the facility is located.
  • Specific details about the nature of your concern.

You can also contact the Indiana State Department of Health Complaint Line at 1-800-246-8909.

Many families of long-term care residents feel helpless and don’t know where to turn when issues arise. However, there is plenty of help available. Applegate & Dillman Elder Law Life Care Planning clients can also turn to their Care Coordinators for help 24/7.  There’s no reason to feel helpless or suffer in silence. Our seniors deserve better.