The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has praised a proposed rule to improve the quality and uniformity of state long-term care ombudsman programs, but said conflict of interest concerns merit more attention.

The proposed rule was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging in June. It is meant to provide a clearer federal framework for state-run long-term care ombudsman programs, which have been subject to controversy.

The proposed regulation would indeed strengthen ombudsman programs, according to Consumer Voice, an organization of long-term care residents, families and consumer advocates. However, the rule’s conflict of interest provisions need more work, the group said in comments sent Monday to the Administration of Aging. 

“As Consumer Voice reached out to members and partners to solicit input on these proposed regulations, there continued to be numerous questions around the conflict of interest provisions (both organizational and individual) and how the provisions applied to specific scenarios,” the comments stated.

State agencies increasingly have a host of responsibilities, such as case management and waiver programs, which could create organizational conflicts of interest with a long-term care ombudsman program, the organization noted. Consumer Voice urged AoA to address this issue more specifically.

With regard to individual conflicts of interest, recommendations included a clearer definition of “significant value” with regard to gifts and gratuities. Consumer Voice also reminded AoA that the Older Americans Act requires that ombudsman programs have access to adequate legal counsel that is free from conflicts of interest, and said more specific regulatory language is needed.

Click here to access the proposed rule.