Update from the Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman

We are still here for you! The Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (OLTCO) is mandated by the Older Americans Act and state law to provide resident-centered advocacy designed to protect the rights, health, safety and welfare of Alaskans living in Skilled Nursing Facilities and Assisted Living Homes. We work to resolve problems of individual residents and to bring about improvements to residents’ care and quality of life.

While our work has shifted from in-person visitations to virtual visitations during COVID-19, we continue to respond to complaints of residents in long-term care facilities across Alaska. The OLTCO provides information and referrals to elders. We also educate elders about their rights. The OLTCO investigates complaints and resolves any issues or concerns that the elder may have. Some of the concerns that elders have brought to our attention focus on issues that impact their residential living environment. This is especially important during COVID-19 while we have not been able to make regular unannounced visits into the facilities. We have assisted residents with issues like unsafe discharges or evictions and issues relating to the quality of care. During COVID-19, we have also assisted residents with concerns about their stimulus payments.

In 2019, the top five complaints for elders centered around involuntary discharges and evictions, issues relating to guardianship, ability for elders to exercise their rights and personal choice, quality of the food in the elder’s residential setting and failure to respond timely to requests for assistance by elders. In 2019, the OLTCO received 583 complaints from elders living in long-term care settings. We are happy to report that 97% of those complaints were resolved to the satisfaction of the resident.

In addition to individual virtual visits with residents, our office has scheduled monthly town hall forums with residents across the state of Alaska. These meetings are also held virtually via Zoom. Our first town hall forum occurred in July, where we had the opportunity to inform residents of some of the office changes. We also focused on elders’ rights to vote and encouraged elders to make a plan to vote. During our August town hall forum, we invited state licensing representatives to discuss reentry plans to help residents understand the phases of reentry and at which point residents can begin receiving visitors again in their homes.

One of the more serious issues confronting our elders during COVID-19 is that of social isolation. During our September town hall forum, we included a representative from the Well-Connected program. The Well-Connected program is a phone and online program offering activities, education, friendly conversation and an assortment of classes and support groups to older adults. These activities, classes and support groups are free to adults over the age of 60 and they are also accessible to elders from the comfort of their home.

For more information about the Well-Connected program elders can call 877-797-7299.

Our next town hall forum for elders in long-term care facilities is scheduled for October 22, 2020. Please call the OLTCO for more information.

Volunteers still needed

The OLTCO has visited more than 300 long term care facilities in Alaska where approximately 3,500 elders reside. We have an amazing team of six staff to serve the entire state. However, we could not truly achieve our mission without the assistance of our 70-plus certified volunteers across the state of Alaska. Our last two volunteer trainings were canceled due to COVID-19; however, our next volunteer training is scheduled for December, 2020. If you have a passion for elders, are friendly and outgoing, love to problem-solve, and are a good listener, the OLTCO needs you. Volunteering for the OLTCO involves classroom style training (via Zoom in December), some online training, a one-year time commitment, and completing one visit to a facility a month and attending a one-hour monthly training meeting.

If you are interested in volunteering for the OLTCO, please feel free to complete an application online at http://www.akoltco.org. You can also contact Kerri at 907-334-4480.

Back to work, safely

What’s next for the OLTCO? We are working on a safe Reentry Plan in hopes that we will soon make in-person visits to facilities. Our reentry plan will ensure that our staff complete a self-assessment prior to entering facilities, complete training on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), have regular access to testing, and ensure our office has adequate PPE for staff and volunteers. The OLTCO will also follow the screening and visitation protocols of facilities. Our elders in long-term care facilities have suffered a great deal during COVID-19 and while we are thrilled about the opportunity to resume in-person visitations, we want to make sure that we do our part in keeping elders, facility staff and our team safe during COVID-19.

Please feel free to call the OLTCO at 907-334-4480. You can visit our website at http://www.akoltco.org. Please find us and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Stephanie Wheeler is the Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman.