Iowa’s chief watchdog for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities is giving Gov. Reynolds a candid evaluation for a new system eliminating onsite visits.
Deep cuts to the Iowa Department on Aging has led the Long-Term Care Ombudsman to use electronic communication instead of onsite visits to advocate for patients and respond to complaints of abuse or neglect.
Ombudsman Cindy Pederson briefed the governor on the change during budget hearings last week.
She said communicating electronically is a big change for the residents.
“We try to do that by teleconference and face-time,” Pederson said. “Most of the people we work with are not technology folks.
“They grew up in a different time using different means,” Pederson said.
In the past, the budget paid for cars for eight regional ombudsmen to make the onsite visits. But funding for the Iowa Department on Aging was slashed by half a million dollars, more than a third of its overall budget. Officials say travel was one of the few places in the budget to cut without reducing staff.
“We've only been doing it since July and every month we do it it gets a little less cumbersome,” Pederson said. “But there are some situations where it would truly benefit everyone if we could get out there and meet with these folks hands on.”
The onsite visits were eliminated in August, prompting an outcry from advocates for the elderly and disabled.
Gov. Reynolds expressed confidence in the technology.
“More and more business is being conducted in that manner,” Reynolds said. “It’s just a reality.
“Change is hard,” she added.
The ombudsman is charged with educating staff and volunteers at the facilities. Pederson said training is now taking place by webinar.
“Teddy Roosevelt has been quoted as saying do what you can with what you have where you are," Pederson said. “That is what I am trying to do with the fiscal realignment of this office.”