Thursday, November 13, 2008

$3.8 Million Budget Cut to the Ombudsman Program May Put California Elders at Risk

On September 23, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the 2008-2009 California budget. A small line in this budget included a $3.8 million budget cut to the funding of the state’s long-term care ombudsman program. Retroactive to July 1, the cut removes almost half of the state’s funding for this program.

The California ombudsman program, which is mandated by both state and federal law, sends volunteers into nursing home and other long-term care facilities to monitor and investigate patient treatment and to respond to and settle complaints about nursing home abuse or neglect. State-certified volunteers do much of the work, which includes visiting nursing homes and responding to complaints by patients and their relatives. Advocates of the program say the ombudsmen help protect vulnerable elders, most of whom who have no friends or relatives to visit them and monitor their treatment.

The budget cut came just days after the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services released a federal government report about nursing home abuse and neglect nationwide. While 90 percent of nursing homes around the country were found to be deficient in some way, the report revealed that a staggering 99 percent of California’s nursing homes are violating federal standards.

Budget Cut Already Forcing California Ombudsman Program Office Closures
Because the budget cut was retroactive to July 1, 2008, the effects on the ombudsman program offices are being felt immediately. Already, one of the nearly three dozen county and local offices has had to close; others have had to cut their staffs in half due to losing over half of their annual budgets. Some offices now have just two staffers left to respond to thousands of annual complaints across hundreds of facilities. One office in Northern California has even seen its budget cut completely.

These office closures will potentially have a devastating impact on the way California’s elders are treated in nursing homes around the state. Considering the federal report’s findings about the state of California’s nursing homes, many groups are concerned that already vulnerable elders are at an enormous risk for abuse and neglect that will go unreported.

Outrage in California’s Senior Citizen Community
Many advocacy and senior citizen groups have already expressed anger at this budget cut. Seniors Organizing Seniors, one of the groups that organized a protest in Sacramento, is especially concerned about the cut to the ombudsman program because of the increasing number in nursing home abuse and neglect complaints. California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) (, the statewide advocacy group for nursing home patients, agrees. CANHR has also questioned the cuts because funding for the statewide ombudsman office, which oversees the program on a state level but provides no services to nursing home residents, was not cut, and none of the state office’s funds have been redirected to the local offices that are now struggling.

Seniors have vowed to keep protesting and fighting until Governor Schwarzenegger reinstates the funding to this and other programs that were cut in the budget.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you suspect that a loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, contact me for immediate assistance.