State down to one elder ombudsman

Single employee serves more than 14,000 assisted living residents

THE MASSACHUSETTS ELDER AFFAIRS office, which had been using two ombudsmen to respond to complaints from the 14,000 people in the state’s 237 assisted living facilities, is now down to one.

One ombudsman took a buyout offered by the Baker administration this summer and Elder Affairs is not currently planning to fill the vacancy because of a hiring freeze.

Alice Bonner, the secretary of Elder Affairs, indicated she would work with the branch of the federal government that provides funding to her agency on how to structure the ombudsman program going forward.

State law requires Elder Affairs to run a statewide network of trained ombudsmen to investigate and resolve complaints filed by assisted living residents. The state operates that type of network for nursing homes, but not for assisted living residences because residents are perceived as being better able to represent themselves.

Laura Shufelt, whose mother died under mysterious circumstances at an assisted living facility in Centerville, is troubled by the reduction.

Meet the Author
“Even two ombudsmen is far from sufficient,” she says. “After all, people’s health and safety are at stake and should not have to take a back seat to any hiring freeze.”

Rebecca Benson, a Boston-based elder law attorney, says the single ombudsman is not enough. “Until there’s a real horror story, no one’s going to do anything to fix things,” she says.  “And then, of course, everyone’s going to be rushing around crying we have to do something.”