Government

Iowa long-term care ombudsman wants to outsource local investigators

Office has faced budget cuts and criticism for lack of advocacy

/

The state agency that oversees nursing home care and protects against elder abuse is considering outsourcing local investigators, a move critics say will further hurt an agency that already has seen budget cuts.

The State Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman plans to issue a request for proposals for a public agency or nonprofit organization to take over six local long-term care ombudsman positions around Iowa.

A brief explaining the move says decentralizing local investigators will maintain quality and potentially save money.

“We’re just looking for the best service-delivery method possible,” State Ombudsman Cynthia Pederson told The Gazette. “A number of other states do have the decentralized model.”

John Hale, an Ankeny-based consultant on long-term care, said he doesn’t know why the ombudsman’s office would outsource local investigators, but fears it will weaken an agency charged with protecting Iowans who live in long-term care facilities.

“I don’t think the any of the perceived problems in the organization need a reorganization,” Hale said.

The state ombudsman’s office budget went from nearly $1.6 million in fiscal 2016 to $1.26 million for fiscal 2019, and the office is down from 14.4 full-time equivalent positions in 2016 to 9.6 in 2019. The state ombudsman is hired within the Department on Aging.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Hale said the state used to have eight local ombudsmen working around the state, but now has six. Pederson said she can’t predict what would happen to those employees if they outsource those functions to other groups.

The office lost about $500,000 in 2017, which prompted administrators to cut local travel budgets, limiting the ability of the investigators to go talk with residents alleging abuse at nursing homes or other care centers, the Des Moines Register has reported.

“When it gets to the point they (residents or families) are concerned enough to file a complaint, they really need someone to come out and talk with them,” Hale said. “Over the telephone or Skype just doesn’t do it. If you’re an investigator, you need to see what’s going on, smell, feel what’s going on.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday she wouldn’t second-guess Pederson’s plan to considering outsourcing local investigators.

“I think we try to make sure that we have the best and the brightest leading these agencies and to give them the flexibility to evaluate how they’re providing the services and then make the best recommendations to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of Iowans,” she said.

The ombudsman’s office has been under fire for other changes.

The Iowa Consumer Olmstead Task Force, a group that advocates for people with disabilities, last year asked Pederson why she and her staff weren’t commenting on any bills before the Iowa Legislature or proposing legislation to help people in long-term care, the Register reported.

The office is charged by the federal Older Americans Act and state Older Iowans Act with protecting the health, safety, welfare and rights of people living in Iowa’s long-term care facilities by investigating complaints, seeking resolutions to problems and providing advocacy, according to its website.

The office worked to help more than 54,000 Iowans in 2016, according to the website. More recent numbers are not provided.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The state also is looking for more volunteer ombudsmen. For more information, go online or call (800) 532-3213.

Rod Boshart of the Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.