The Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) program provides advocacy services for residents in residential care facilities under the federal Older Americans Act, and Oregon law. Broadly, the program has two vital functions: direct advocacy services to residents and systemic advocacy efforts on behalf of all residents.

Recently, three Wallowa Valley Senior Living (WSVL) residents received Involuntary Move Out Notices claiming their needs had exceeded the care provided. The residents filed complaints with the Ombudsman program stating they did not agree that the needs of these residents had increased, that their needs did not exceed the level of care provided under the facility license, and that they had been promised they could stay in the facility for the remainder of their lives.

Other community members contacted our office stating the facility had been built with local taxpayer funds and they were led to believe that it was done so to insure local seniors would not have to move to other locales to receive LTC services. WVSL is owned by Wallowa Valley Health Care District and is managed by Artegan, LLC. Recent Letters to the Editor and high turnout for the Health Care District board meeting, illustrates much public concern for county seniors and a need to clarify what services will be provided by WVSL moving forward.

The Ombudsman program, in representing resident interests, had three specific areas of concern. The first was to assist those residents who had been asked to move from their home in exercising their right to appeal the notice at a hearing. Each individual’s situation was addressed separately and presented in an informal conference held with the resident’s representative, the DHS Licensor, the facility, and the Ombudsman. The Move Out Notices were rescinded and thankfully these residents remain in their homes.

The second concern is the lack of clarity surrounding residents who had resided in the old nursing home and when exactly someone would have to move out of the facility as their care needs increased. In May 2014, we posed questions to Artegan on behalf of residents and family members. At that time, Artegan stated they would exhaust every option to keep residents in their home as long as possible. Furthermore, Artegan stated they expected and anticipated a higher level of care provided by WVSL versus other assisted living communities. Finally, they said they would work with regulators to meet higher needs to keep county seniors close to families and in the county they call home. A community discussion must occur to clarify the situation, publicly, disseminate the results, and set a course for whatever is decided.

The third area of concern is a lack of services normally available to support residents outside nursing facilities, either at home, in assisted living or in adult foster homes. Wallowa County, like other rural counties, does not have adequate support services such as home health, hospice and chore or respite services intended to meet specialized or temporary care needs. When these services are readily available, residents’ needs can often be met in lower levels of care by complementing facility offerings. A facility determines the service offerings it chooses to provide and given this unique ownership/management situation, the community can help shape those to meet the needs of current and future residents.

The Ombudsman program is dedicated to improving the lives of long-term care residents and committed to assisting rural counties keep their elders in their home communities. We believe solutions exist but will only be discovered and implemented by ongoing, transparent, and innovative collaboration among the various stakeholders. Please feel free to contact me at the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman with questions or concerns.

Todd Steele, MPA, and David Berger, JD, are with the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman for the State of Oregon. Steele is Deputy State Long Term-Care Ombudsman, District 6, and Berger is Interim Agency Director and State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

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