South Charlotte

Ombudsman protects long-term care residents

There are 2,022 residents living in adult long term care homes in south Charlotte, according to the Centralina Council of Governments.

North Carolina has the ninth-largest population of citizens age 60 or older in the U.S., and in 2030, one in four North Carolinians is projected to be older than 60, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2005-2009 American Community Survey.

Pam Irish, 41, is the only paid regional long-term care ombudsman to advocate for the residents of the 49 licensed adult care and family care homes in Mecklenburg County, 19 of which are facilities located in south Charlotte.

Irish, who lives in the Blakeney area, grew up in Vermont with her four grandparents living close-by. Her 94-year-old grandmother is still a significant part of her life.

Irish began her career in elder care seven years ago in Vermont and continued on this path to North Carolina, first in Union County and now in Mecklenburg County.

A long-term care ombudsman is an advocate for the rights of residents living in adult care homes, protecting residents' health, safety and welfare.

Community Advisory Committee volunteers assist Irish in assessing residents' welfare and advocating for their rights. To prepare for their volunteer work, CAC members receive 15 hours of initial training, plus quarterly training updates. An initial volunteer appointment is for one year.

As a group, committee members also visit each of the adult care homes each quarter, talking with as many residents as possible. Irish and her team make sure that long-term care residents are comfortable accessing services and that their needs are met, but they are not inspectors or regulators.

"We work hard to get to the root of any issue," said Irish, explaining how any complaints they might field are resolved. "Then we see how much we can empower the residents to work on their own behalf, and we help with negotiating or mediation."

Irish also provides information to families about local long-term care facilities and how to choose one.

Irish recommends looking into the following aspects of long-term care prior to placement into a facility: financial planning for long-term care while still young, and a long-term care policy to help pay for a facility stay.

Families can visit the North Carolina state website to look for violations or fines a facility may have received, ask the facility for its most recent survey results, and call the ombudsman program for CAC reports. Once a family member resides in an adult care home, relatives can continue to be involved in their loved one's welfare through visits.

With the resident's permission, family members may look at his or her plan of care, medical records and nurses notes. They should work with the facility administrator to resolve any issues.

If additional assistance is needed, family members should contact the ombudsman.