Ombudsmen are Advocates

A few years ago, I heard a story on the news about a long term care facility that was located on a busy road without sidewalks. Residents wishing to walk in the surrounding neighborhood risked walking alongside traffic. The situation resulted in one resident being hit by a car. That resident reached out to the facility’s Long Term Care Ombudsman who worked to have a new safe sidewalk built outside the facility. Now, residents can travel with greater freedom and safety.

At another long term care facility, several residents told their volunteer Ombudsman that they were not receiving enough food at meal times, and often left the dining room hungry. The Ombudsman visited the nutrition department and found that, although the meals met the dietary requirements, the portion sizes were small. Through advocacy and persistence, she convinced the facility administrator to increase portion sizes so residents were no longer left hungry.

Unless you have been an advocate for yourself or a loved one receiving care at home or in a care facility, you may not have heard the term “Ombudsman.” An Ombudsman is an advocate. The ombudsman service offers a way for residents to voice their complaints and have concerns addressed so they can live with dignity and respect. The Ombudsman institution was first established in Sweden and 1809, giving citizens a representative who is a promoter of their fundamental rights.

In Massachusetts, the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program was established in 1973, and provides nursing and rest home residents with a means and opportunity to voice their concerns about their care and treatment.

Ombudsmen are trained and certified by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to act as advocates for nursing/rest home residents. They make weekly unannounced visits to facilities to observe and monitor conditions and to address residents’ complaints. With the resident’s permission, the Ombudsman will speak to the appropriate staff member to try and resolve the problem.

An Ombudsman:

  • Offers ideas about how to work effectively with nursing and rest home staff
  • Keeps resident concerns confidential
  • Resolves complaints made by or for residents of long-term care facilities
  • Educates residents about their rights
  • Advocates for residents’ rights and quality care in nursing homes, and licensed long-term care facilities

Concerns an Ombudsman may address:

  • Violation of residents’ rights or dignity
  • Lack of services needed to maintain physical and mental health
  • Unreasonable confinement
  • Poor quality of care, including adequate personal hygiene and slow response to requests for assistance
  • Improper transfer or discharge of patient
  • Inappropriate use of chemical or physical restraints
  • Any resident concern about quality of care or quality of life

In Massachusetts, a Long Term Care Ombudsman is a volunteer, who spends 6 to 10 hours per month advocating for patients and residents as they live their lives with dignity and respect at a local nursing facility or rehabilitation center. This critical volunteer works with the residents and staff to resolve concerns about residents’ rights and the quality of life as, in turn, the volunteer increases their sense of connection with the community.

For more information about the Long Term Care Ombudsman program, contact SeniorCare at 978-281-1750 and ask to speak with the Ombudsman Department. You can also visit or to learn more about the Long Term Care Ombudsmen Program and other volunteer opportunities available through SeniorCare’s RSVP Volunteers of the North Shore—an AmeriCorps Seniors program.