Ombudsman Program on Life Support

“This program is going to run out of money this month.” That was the dire warning in a Senate Health Committee hearing Wednesday from Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), author of AB 2555,  which would raise $1.6 million to finance California’s ombudsman program for at least one more year.

The program uses volunteers across the state to monitor long-term care facilities, handle patient complaints and advocate for long-term care patients.

“Residents are so dependent on the long-term care ombudsman,” said Jackie McGrath, director of public policy for the California Alzheimer’s Association. “Most are among the frailest of our citizens. Often the long-term ombudsman is their only advocate. We want to find a non-general fund solution for this year, so we can have time to design a long-term solution.”

Last year, California lawmakers cut $3.8 million from the program but later restored $1.6 million. At the end of June, that funding runs out.

So lawmakers have been scrambling to find a funding source. This bill takes the $1.6 million from the State Health Facilities Citation Penalties Account. That money is normally slated for long-term care needs, such as relocation expenses if a facility is closed, or maintenance of facilities when the state temporarily takes over a facility.

And that’s why Sheena Nash of the California Department of Public Health is against the bill — not because she disapproves of the ombudsman program, but she doesn’t think lifting money from other important programs is a viable plan.

“This bill does not provide a long-term solution, and… it will continue to need money for funding shortages in the future,” Nash said. “Moneys from these accounts are set aside for specific purposes. The fund cannot sustain a repetitive diversion of funding and remain solvent.”

A long queue of supporters lined up to support the bill at the hearing, which passed the Senate committee and is now headed to Appropriations.

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