State ombudsman programs must follow federal rules, HHS says

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the rule goes into effect July 2016.

The Department of Health and Human Services is giving states until July 1, 2016 to get in step with long-established federal guidelines governing the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program.

HHS announced the mandate in a final rule published Wednesday in the Federal Register.

Much has been explained about the program's rules since it was created in the 1970s but little has been done to ensure compliance — something that has led to widely varying interpretations and numerous legal and controversial compliance problems for long-term providers, according to the agency.

“In the absence of regulation, there has been significant variation in the interpretation and implementation of these provisions among states,” the final rule notes. “HHS expects that a number of states may need to update their statutes, regulations, policies, procedures and/or practices in order to operate the Ombudsman program consistent with federal law and this final rule.”

The final rule takes into consideration all industry comments the agency has received since it was proposed June 18, 2013. As McKnight's reported then, the intent was to create more uniformity and address questions around ombudsman responsibilities, information disclosure, complaint resolution and conflicts of interest.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, one of many provisions stemming from the Older Americans Act of 1965, is administered on a federal level by the Administration on Aging of the Administration for Community Living within HHS.