Opposition to Ombudsman Bill Evaporates

by David Gorn

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Joe Rodrigues, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, has removed his opposition to SB 345  by Lois Wolk (D-Davis), a Senate bill designed to reform the ombudsman's office.

Rodrigues said the bill authors made a number of amendments to the measure. He now supports the bill presented at a legislative committee hearing earlier this week.

"We were able to work with them on coming to some agreements that will benefit the program and strengthen the [ombudsman's] office," Rodrigues said. "It made some of the good things to do in the bill less burdensome, such as the advisory council and the annual report. The bill looks very different today than it was a year and a half ago when it was first introduced."

Rodrigues announced his support for SB 345 at the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care Tuesday.

"My position is to let you know … I have removed my opposition," Rodrigues said to Assembly committee members at the hearing. "I now support this bill and ask for your vote, as well."

SB 345 aligns state and federal law regarding the ombudsman's office. It emphasizes the ombudsman's ability to advocate on behalf of long-term care recipients, something advocates say has been politically challenging, since the agency is housed within the Department of Aging, which makes Rodrigues an employee of the state. The new guidelines, both sides said, would give Rodrigues a little more autonomy -- for instance, to oppose cutbacks to the department.

"For me, including the Older Americans Act responsibilities of the State Ombudsman and placing those in California law is really what I wanted to see," Rodrigues said. "To me, that gets to the heart of the issue. If we have these requirements in state law, it removes any doubt that the State Ombudsman can do his job."

The bill also calls for an annual report and re-establishment of an advisory council. The deadlines for those tasks were amended.

Karen Jones, director of San Luis Obispo County Long Term Care Ombudsman Services and an advocate for long-term beneficiaries, said the word "ombudsman" is a mystery to many people. People have difficulty "pronouncing it, spelling it or understanding what it is," Jones said at the hearing,  but it's a vital service for residents in long-term care facilities, Jones said.

"When you think of the state ombudsman, that should be the great advocate," Jones said. "It's about the office. The state ombudsman needs to be the loudest and best advocate of all."


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