Dr. Eleanor Barbera

Last week during a talk at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging 2017 Ombudsman Conference, audience members told me that they’re having difficulty speaking to administrators and other senior staff when they visit the facilities. In fact, some people reported that the administrators close their office doors when they find out the ombudsman is in the building!

While I can imagine from an administrator’s point of view that an unexpected interruption from someone complaining about problems is not exactly a welcome visit, perhaps there’s a way to shift the relationship to mutual advantage.

In fact, ombudsmen may be able to use their resources to help you solve problems within your facility.

Their role

Long-term care ombudsmen act as advocates for residents to address problems and to facilitate quality care. According to The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, ombudsmen promote “the development of citizen organizations, family councils and resident councils.” Ombudsmen and the councils can identify areas of potential improvement and, if properly guided, can offer solutions and assistance.

Local ombudsman’s offices have, for example, sponsored training programs on culture change and invited facility staff free of charge. Ombudsmen have arranged trips for staff to visit nearby Green Houses and provided free staff training on various resident care matters.

Pennsylvania’s Ombudsman Program is very active in promoting resident participation. Their ombudsman-trained PEERs (Pennsylvania’s Empowered Expert Residents) focus on improving the quality of life for residents. PEER efforts include initiating activities in which elders have the opportunity to assist others, such as a program making blankets for the homeless. That would make a nice mention during the prospective resident tour, don’t you think?

Ombudsman contact tips

While it’s likely that your ombudsman will be sharing resident complaints with you, it’s better to hear about these problems from them than from a state surveyor. Consider the following methods to improve your working relationship and to enhance resident care:

•  Tell your ombudsman the best way to connect with you. Perhaps he or she should be making an appointment to see you rather than popping in to your office, or maybe a drop-in visit is fine on certain days and times.

•  Are you tired of hearing only complaints? Ask them to share what they see that’s working. This will provide important information and simultaneously change the interpersonal dynamic from antagonistic to collaborative.

•  Benefit from their viewpoint. Workers are undoubtedly on their best behavior when administrative personnel are on the floors. Ombudsmen have the opportunity to see staff behaviors that you don’t and they’re in the position to tell you about it (unlike other staff members who see things but wouldn’t dream of telling management).

•  Enlist their help. If the ombudsman is raising an issue about resident care such as the shower procedures, perhaps he or she can work with the residents to create a training program for staff.

•  Use their resources. Ombudsman programs may be able to get grants or to collaborate with other organizations to provide training or information for your team. Put your ombudsman to work on your behalf.

•  Ask your colleagues for best practices on engaging with ombudsmen. You may hear ideas that will inspire partnership.

Developing a working relationship with your ombudsman can help you identify problems before surveyors arrive, improve the quality of care, enhance the training of staff, and develop innovative programming that sells your facility. Perhaps it’s time to open your doors to what they have to offer.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Gold Medal blogger in the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with more than 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.