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Even Advocates For Nursing Home Residents Can't Visit Nursing Homes Right Now

A sign outside of the Kingsley Manor Retirement Community notes that visitors are not allowed unless medically necessary. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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As health authorities struggle to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, even official patient advocates can't visit homes in person.

Los Angeles County's Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, a publicly funded entity that investigates complaints about the treatment of residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, is barred from doing site visits under federal guidelines (there’s an exception for end-of-life care.)

"I think this is a time, more than ever, our residents need us," said Molly Davies, who administers L.A. County’s program, which has five offices throughout the county and oversees 2,000 facilities.

Davies said they are still conducting investigations — over the phone. "We can do a lot from the office but we can't do everything," she said.

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Nursing home ombudsman programs across the country are under the same constraints.

The ombudsman's office covers a wide range of services, including investigating complaints of abuse and handling medical and legal problems. Often, they are the first agency to hear from residents and loved ones and can act as an intermediary between them and the facility.

The California Department of Public Health, which licenses and regulates nursing homes, has also suspended its routine inspections. But they are entering nursing homes across the state to help with infection control.

As of today, 800 deaths among L.A. County nursing home residents and staff have been attributed to COVID-19, nearly half of all virus-related deaths in the county.

An aggressive response against the coronavirus may protect residents from getting infected but Davies said she has concerns over isolated residents' mental health and safety.

A 24/7 statewide ombudsman crisis line is available to receive complaints from residents in long-term care facilities: 1-800-231-4024.

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