Kern County Long-Term Care Ombudsman
During the 1970s, federal and state politicians became aware of care problems in nursing homes. Many dedicated volunteers and family members worked to develop the national and state Long Term Care Ombudsman Program to ensure that facility residents receive quality care, their rights are respected, and they are free from abuse. The 1978 Amendments to the Older Americans Act (OAA) elevated the Nursing Home Ombudsman Program to a statutory level. The statute and subsequent amendments required all state agencies on aging to establish an ombudsman program that would carry out the following activities:
- Investigate and resolve long-term care facility residents’ complaints;
- Promote the development of citizens’ organizations and train volunteers;
- Identify significant problems by establishing a statewide reporting system for complaints, and work to resolve these problems by bringing them to the attention of appropriate public agencies;
- Monitor the development and implementation of federal, state, and local long-term care laws and policies;
- Gain access to long-term care facilities and to residents’ records; and
- Protect the confidentiality of residents’ records, complainants’ identities, and ombudsman files.
These statutory provisions set the framework for development of state programs that encompassed both the sub-state (regional) program focus of the early nationwide program and the complaint investigation focus of the demonstration projects. Thus, California was able to build on its early ombudsman initiatives as it began implementing the legislative requirements.
The 1981 reauthorization of the OAA resulted in a further expansion of ombudsman duties. In addition to nursing homes, board and care homes, known in California as Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFE), were included in the ombudsman responsibilities. The name was changed from Nursing Home Ombudsman to Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) to reflect this change. Other duties remained substantially the same.
The Kern County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is directed by Ms. Devora Gonzalez. Ms. Gonzalez has been with the program for almost a decade, and her dedication to the advocacy for seniors has increased awareness of the rights of the residents she serves throughout Kern County. Ms. Gonzalez’ was trained well by her predecessor, Ms. Nona Tolentino. Many in the community fondly remember the spirit with which Ms. Tolentino advocated for the residents she served for over a decade as the director of the program.
Ms. Nona was instrumental in the State Attorney General’s 2009 case against employees at a skilled nursing facility, where two dozen residents were illegally drugged and three residents died from chemical restraints. Nona brought the case to the attention of state officials and the subsequent criminal prosecutions helped generate the momentum for a national effort to curb misuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes.