Thursday, January 24, 2019

Georgia Personal Needs Allowance
Melanie McNeil, Esq., State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

678 residents of nursing homes have sent letters to Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly, thanking them for increasing the Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) by $15.  Residents use the PNA to buy their clothing,  small gifts and cards for celebrations such as Christmas or birthdays and other incidentals that we all take for granted.

The residents are also requesting an additional $5 that was authorized by the General Assembly, but requires an appropriation. Ombudsman Representatives from across Georgia have worked diligently to assist nursing home residents to communicate their advocacy requests to the governor and General Assembly members.

The letters have been delivered to the governor and key legislators.  Copies will also be distributed to the legislators from the residents’ legislative districts.  We hope that the legislature will add the $5 to the budget for the State Fiscal Year 2020.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Taiwan’s Independent Advocate Program

Becky Kurtz, Director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Area Agency on Aging, shared some highlights of her trip to the International Symposium on Senior Advocate Ombudsman Program in Taiwan. 

The purpose of the trip was to provide the keynote speech at a conference focused on serving individuals in long-term care facilities. For the past 5 years, Taiwan has been building an “Independent Advocate” program for facility residents, linking volunteers to residents who are most vulnerable because they lack family support. They were hungry to learn about the US Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) and what we have learned over 40 years of our LTCOP history. Their Independent Advocate program has started in 8 (of possible 22) regions of the country. The first of these programs started in 2013. It’s very much a volunteer-based “friendly visitor” model, and less of a complaint/resolution ombudsman model.  But they are still trying to figure out the model they want to use. They have borrowed heavily from the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as the US and Japan, in developing their programs. Thus far, the program has had demonstration funding from the national lottery, which provides grants for demonstration projects, but the program has no source of on-going funding.

Becky participated in a conference at Asia University (in a city called Taichung) that focused on lessons learned from the US program, the status of the program in Taiwan, and the experience of a similar program in Japan. She spent almost all of her time with staff and volunteers developing the Independent Advocate program in Taiwan (starting in 2013, and so far, they have programs beginning in 8 cities). (Asia University Conference Site in Taichung)      
(Asia University Conference Site in Taichung)

                                              (Long-Term Care Facility in Taipei)

Monday, November 26, 2018

My Semester with the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

This semester, as part of my law school coursework at GSU, I’ve been an extern with the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, which entails roughly 10 hours a week either at the State of Georgia Building, the Capitol, or meeting with parties interested in the well-being of long-term care residents. Over the course of my semester I’ve had the opportunity to work on issues related to supported decision-making, guardianships, and resident placement.

During my externship I worked most closely with Melanie McNeil, the State Ombudsman and a GSU College of Law alumna, who provided indispensable guidance while drafting memos and legislative language. Melanie and the Ombudsman Services Coordinators are a wealth of knowledge—about nursing and personal care homes, guardianships, the intricacies of relevant state and federal agencies, and the importance of residential rights—knowledge that only comes from years of practical experience. Because I had little prior experience with health and elder law and with drafting legislation, I was initially overwhelmed in the deluge of initialisms, terms of art, and the punctiliousness required of legislative language. Fortunately, the entire office has always been generous with their time, willing to answer even the most neophytic questions and give advice on the projects I’ve been involved in over the semester.

My experience as an extern has enriched my interest in healthcare, disability, and elder law—areas in which I hope to pursue a career after law school. I think those interested in working in public interest, state government, or disability and elder advocacy should avail themselves of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office, whose insight and kindness I have found invaluable.

Ryan Malone is a second-year law student at Georgia State University College of Law.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Holiday Visits to Long-Term Care Facilities

During the holiday season, long-term care facilities including nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living communities, receive a high volume of visits from families, friends,  local organizations and faith-based groups.  These visits are extremely important to residents of long-term care facilities.  Residents feel less depressed and isolated when visitors come to see them regularly.  In addition, regular visitors may serve as advocates for resident care. 

Generally, long-term care facilities residents have the right to receive visitors. Family members may visit any time.  Long-term care ombudsman, the resident’s physician, the resident’s attorney, and clergy members may also visit the resident any time.  Other visitors, including friends, neighbors and others may visit during the facility’s visiting hours.  Federal and state laws and regulations address residents’ rights to visitors.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have guidelines about residents’ rights.  CMS explains that the resident has a right “to visit and be visited by others outside the facility.”  This means that, in addition to receiving visitors at the facility, residents have the right to leave the facility temporarily to visit with others in the community.  Residents have the right to go out to lunch or dinner or some other event with family and friends.  To learn more about rights to return to the facility including bed hold policy when a resident has an overnight visit away from the facility click this link:

Long-term Care Ombudsmen are advocates for residents of long-term care facilities.  Ombudsmen services are confidential; ombudsmen advocate according to the resident’s wishes.  Each county in Georgia is served by the Ombudsman program.  A list of the programs and contact information is available at Ombudsmen are dedicated to advocating for long-term care residents regarding many issues, including their right to have visitors. Ombudsman can help by 1) informing the facility about visitation rights and 2) accompanying a visitor during a visit to ensure the resident’s rights are respected.

Tips for Visitors:

·         Call ahead to arrange your visit at a time that is best for the resident.

·         A resident’s room is his or her home.  Knock and ask permission to enter.

·         Introduce yourself to the resident to remind him or her who you are.  Residents may not see or hear as well as they once did, so may not recognize your face or voice.

·         Be attentive to the resident’s appearance and demeanor. Does he or she appear clean, appropriately dressed and well cared for? Ask about the quality of food and activities.

·         Many facilities plan special holiday events or activities. Consider planning a visit at those times to share the event with residents.

·         A resident may have had to leave his or her companion animals when he or she moved to the facility.  Ask the facility about its policy for pet visits.

·         Residents with dementia may not be able to talk to you, but still appreciate the sound of another person’s voice.

·         If asked for help with water, food or assistance moving around the room, ask a staff member to assist, since you may not know if the resident has special needs or restrictions.

Melanie McNeil, Esq., State Ombudsman said, “The holidays are a time for reminiscing and creating new happy memories. Visits are important at this holiday season, and also throughout the year.  Visiting helps each resident to stay connected with his or her community and helps to improve residents’ lives.”

If you are concerned about the care or treatment your loved one is receiving in a long-term care facility, or if your loved one expresses concerns, remember the best place to solve most problems is right where you are --- in the facility.  Try to clearly identify what the problem is then approach the administrator, director of nursing or facility social worker with your concern.  Discuss possible solutions and ask when and how the concern will be addressed.  If the problem remains unresolved, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) is there to help.  The name and contact information for the local ombudsman is posted prominently in every long-term care facility.  You may also find the local ombudsman by calling 1-866-552-4464 and select the option 5 for LTCOP or on the web at

Georgia Personal Needs Allowance Melanie McNeil, Esq., State Long-Term Care Ombudsman 678 residents of nursing homes have sent lett...