Advocates for older and vulnerable New Yorkers say more funding is needed for an oversight program at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
More than half of the nursing homes and long-term care facilities in New York have not received a visit from a member of the state's ombudsman program so far this year. It's a problem the needs to be addressed, said Bill Ferris, the legislative representative for AARP New York.
"There hasn't really been an investment in this program in years and the result of that is the ombudsman who are very hard working people can't get to all the facilities," Ferris said.
The program is meant to provide independent oversight of nursing homes in New York. It's meant to give family members peace of mind that their loved ones are being care for.
"The ombudsman program is the eyes and ears of residents and adult care facilities," Ferris said. "They help families out, they help residents out. They're really there to provide oversight."
The New York State Office for the Aging in a statement said it has been a challenge to recruit volunteers for the program and wants to work with state lawmakers to find a solution. At the same time, ombudsman programs nationwide have faced struggles.
"The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is a valued component in our efforts to help residents of nursing homes and similar facilities resolve problems and improve their quality of life and care," the agency said in a statement. "While we are aware of the challenges facing this volunteer-driven program, we are strongly committed to working with community advocates and our partners in the legislature to develop long-term solutions so that all sites statewide receive regular visits."
The goal is to have 235 full-tme workers for the program and essentially allow for weekly visits at nursing homes.
"The governor has a real opportunity right now without further study in her budget to put money into this program and make it better," Ferris said.
Alex Thompson of the New York Association on Independent Living believes the pandemic has shined a light on the issues facing the facilities and how vulnerable some residents can be if conditions aren't properly checked.
"COVID has kind of challenged a lot of that, of peoples' expectations and of what a nursing home provided," he said.
Expanding staff would require an estimated $19.5 million in the state budget next year.
"We need to do better as a state to make sure there's proper oversight," Thompson said, "and that people are getting the care that they need."