The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging has proposed a rule to create federal guidelines for long-term care ombudsman programs, to create more uniformity and address questions around ombudsman responsibilities, information disclosure, complaint resolution and conflicts of interest.

Title VII of the 1992 reauthorization of the Older Americans Act governs long-term care ombudsman programs. However, a proposed 1994 rule to implement Title VII was never finalized. As a result, states have interpreted Title VII in different ways, and ombudsman programs have varied in their scope and effectiveness. The administration of these programs has led to controversy and litigation. The 84-page proposed rule published in today’s Federal Register aims to create a clearer federal framework for these programs.

The proposed rule defines the term “Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman” to mean an organization headed by an individual who will hold the title of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, who has authority to designate representatives who will also be considered part of the state office. The rule also revises language to account for expanded electronic recordkeeping and clarifies processes for designating and de-designating representatives. It lays out ombudsman and state agency roles in complaint response, including the establishment of appropriate response timeframes, which it says should be determined on a state-by-state basis rather than federally.

If the rule becomes final, state agencies would have to resolve any potential conflicts of interest. For example, if a single state agency includes both adult protective services and the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the state must ensure that the ombudsman’s office is not hindered as a result.

States would have one year from approval of the final rule to comply, and the Administration on Aging does not anticipate that the required changes would have a substantial financial impact on states or long-term care providers. Comments will be accepted for 60 days.

Click here for details on how to comment, and to access the Federal Register entry.