Governor Doug Ducey declared October Long-Term Care Residents’ Rights Month, to honor residents living in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness and celebrate the dignity, respect, and the rights of each resident. The federal Nursing Home Reform Law guarantees residents’ rights and places a strong emphasis on individual dignity, choice, and self-determination.
There are more than 1.5 million individuals living in 16,000 nursing homes and 1 million individuals living in 50,000 assisted living facilities in the United States.
The DES Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) houses the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) and contracts with the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) around the state to identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult foster care homes. LTCOP also educates residents, families, facility staff and the community about long-term care issues and services, promotes and advocates for residents’ rights, assists residents in obtaining needed services, and works with and supports family and resident councils. It is crucial to give a voice to all citizens, but not every state has that capability.
Arizona is the only state that has tribal ombudsmen. With twenty-two federally recognized Tribal Nations, Arizona has the third largest American Indian population in the United States, and when it comes to advocating on behalf of tribal residents in facilities, Arizona ranks first.
In 2005, discussions began about adding a tribal ombudsman. “We saw a need, so we decided to develop that area,” said Cindy Saverino, DES Community Action and Aging Program Administrator. Currently, there are four tribes with ombudsmen— Tohono O’odham Nation, Gila River Indian Community, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and White Mountain Apache Tribe. Although there is not an ombudsman for each tribe, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona was already a designated AAA, so it partnered with the tribes to provide ombudsman services to tribal members who live off tribal land.
“As the only Tribal Ombudsman Program in the United States, it has been ITCA’s honor to empower residents and ensure that their rights to care, dignity, information, freedom as well as other important rights are continuously observed and respected throughout Arizona,” says Maria Dadgar, MBA, Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA).
The ITCA Ombudsman Program speaks four tribal languages: Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, in addition to Spanish. “For more than 25 years, it has been a responsibility that we have approached with great sensitivity and cultural understanding,” said Dadgar. “Speaking to our elders in tribal languages that represent their communities has allowed us to build a trusting relationship and address the concerns of individual residents which has led to improved outcomes and an enhanced quality of life for thousands of tribal elders in Arizona.”
Having a specific tribal ombudsman has many benefits in addition to language proficiency, including cultural competency and access to visiting residents on tribal lands. As most visitors can only visit with tribal permission, access has been a consistent issue for ombudsman programs in other states.
Recently, representatives with the Administration for Community Living visited DES to assess Arizona’s model. They’re currently looking at how they can replicate this system in other states. The two biggest issues faced by other states is finding volunteers within the tribe to bridge cultural barriers and finding agencies to provide this service.
For more information, visit the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program website.
By Isabella Neal