Residents of nursing facilities, long-term care facilities and residential homes for the aged have rights, but a question arises of whom to contact when residents or their families feel those rights have been violated.

Thomas Kahler, long-term care ombudsman with East Tennessee Human Resources Agency (ETHRA), will discuss issues surrounding this topic at 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 18, at Everett Senior Center in Maryville as well as other information, such as help provided with Medicare/Tenncare, admissions, medications, abuse, transfers, privacy, food, care, discharge and activities. The program is hosted by Blount County ElderWatch.

Kahler, who was named District 2 long-term care ombudsman July 1, 2017, said, “I am an advocate for residents and residents’ rights in nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and residential homes for the aged – licensed care facilities – in 16 counties. There are 128 of them in the 16 counties.”

These 128 facilities house more than 11,000 residents. An average of 100 or more complaints, concerns or consultations are received per month. These are discovered directly from visits to the facilities, calls from a concerned resident, family member or other responsible party, or from individuals reporting anonymously through various organizations.

human dignity

“Primarily, I work to identify issues or complaints that residents may have,” Kahler said. “I investigate and work to resolve those complaints with the resident, with their consent, to approach the facility, the staff, and work through problems, or if the resident needs me to be their advocate, I will speak for them directly. My objective is to ensure they have the highest quality of care, which I feel equates into a quality of life and just basic human dignity.”

His duties also include acting on behalf of residents to ensure their stay is as pleasant and home-like as possible and providing assistance to family and resident councils to enable them to advocate for change.

With such a large district to serve, Kahler is charged with recruiting, training and certifying volunteer ombudsmen. “These are people in the community who have an interest in serving as a volunteer at local nursing facilities. The benefit of that is that they can spend a little more time in a facility than I can physically manage,” he said.

Kahler also works with other agencies, including the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Adult Protective Services, Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and law enforcement to ensure that residents are protected and receive the best possible care.

Cases

Kahler’s presentation will include a wealth of information about the ombudsman program, how it arose, who is eligible to receive the services, details of services offered and upcoming legislation to address the needs of older Americans. He will also speak about elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, what these may entail, how to recognize red flags and how to prevent your loved one from becoming a victim.

“Tennessee is a mandatory reporting state,” he said. “Both males and females are affected — there is no one typical victim. It can affect anyone in a long-term care facility. It can seem somewhat benign or it can be very egregious.”

Kahler gave examples of some of the issues he has helped residents resolve, from severe cases of abuse and neglect to making sure they are bathed regularly, receive assistance in eating, and are free of restraints, both physical and chemical. In one case, he was able to speak with staff and administrators at a facility and work out a solution for a resident whose room was at the end of a hall, who told him her food was delivered last and was always cold.

“It’s always something different,” he said.

If a resident or someone concerned with the resident’s welfare has a question or sees a problem, Kahler urges them to contact him. “I will work to resolve issues in the best way we can,” he said.

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