“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, Â 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 doesnât think lifting money from other important programs is a viable plan.
“This bill does not provide a long-term solution, andâ¦ 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.