Assemblymember Sarah Clark Passes First Bill to Advocate for Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Residents

Rochester, NY – Today, the NYS Assembly passed Assemblymember Sarah Clark’s first of several bills she has introduced in her first few months in office, A.5436, which strengthens the New York State Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) and addresses issues within the program that have been exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Assemblymember Clark said, “New York State's Long-term Care Ombudsman Program has one primary purpose, to advocate for residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. To be more effective, we need to increase the number of volunteers through education, promotion, and recruitment. We also need a stronger line of communication between the program’s staff and volunteers and the agencies that investigate and resolve these complaints. We must ensure access for our ombudsmen to all nursing homes during any emergency, like a global health pandemic, since they serve as our eyes and ears to advocate for these residents in situations where family cannot. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Reform Act will address these issues and strengthen the program so that we can better protect our seniors and most vulnerable populations."

“I want to profusely thank Assemblymember Sarah Clark for her leadership and support of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program,” said Ann Marie Cook, President/CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester. “Ombudsmen advocate every day on behalf of residents in nursing homes. As we know, it has been a really hard year for residents and their families. We need to ensure that residents have strong advocates and we need to support this program so that no resident is ever without an advocate again. I strongly support this legislation and thank Assemblymember Clark for her continued recognition and support of all older New Yorkers.”

New York State’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) was established more than four decades ago as part of the federal Older Americans Act. Its primary purpose is to advocate “for residents by investigating and resolving complaints made by or on behalf of residents; promoting the development of resident and family councils; and informing government agencies, providers, and the general public about issues and concerns impacting residents of long-term care facilities.”

But what we have seen over the last few years and what was made worse by the COVID 19 health pandemic, is that this is often not the case.There is significant evidence and testimonials from family members and ombudsman staff and volunteers that indicate the program is not working as well as it was intended. This legislation would expand the current LTCOP program to be more accessible and more accountable to the care of our seniors and their families, while promoting the volunteer advocate program.

This bill tackles three important issues. First it will promote awareness and education of the program to recruit and expand the number of volunteers currently serving as Ombudsman. Create a strong line of communication between the program’s staff and volunteers and the agencies that oversee the facilities. Such agency would then be required to notify ombudsman staff and volunteers in a timely manner of any complaints received concerning the facility and the resolution of any issues. And finally require that residential health care facilities' pandemic emergency plan include a method to provide all residents with access to ombudsman staff and volunteers.

The overwhelming support for this legislation as seen through its number of cosponsors, and response from community advocates is a testament to how vital our ombudsmen are to the care of our loved ones, and the vision we have to make this program even more effective.