Thanks to companies like Yelp and the Better Business Bureau (BBB), with a few clicks of the mouse, it is easier than ever to find out which businesses are doing good work and fulfilling their promises to customers and which ones have room for improvement. And there is a similar government-sponsored advocacy group available to help you assess senior living providers in your area, but I have found that few people know about this great resource: It’s called the long-term care ombudsmen program.

Support for senior living residents’ rights

Your local long-term care ombudsmen serve as volunteer advocates for people living in care facilities. The program offers residents and their loved ones a way to file a formal complaint against an area facility–such as nursing homes, free-standing assisted living facilities, adult care homes, and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also called life plan communities)–and works to resolve the grievance or regulatory violation. It also serves as a central repository that can be researched to uncover other people’s complaints about a senior living facility.

The long-term care ombudsmen program is typically operated at the state level with regional offices in the state’s main population centers. The services and goals of the program often include:

  • Investigating complaints and concerns lodged against a facility, and working to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of all involved parties
  • Referring people to the appropriate regulatory agency should a complaint fail to be properly addressed
  • Acting as a guiding resource for questions about area long-term care options
  • Bringing issues related to long-term care to the attention of governmental and regulatory policymakers
  • Educating both residents and providers on laws impacting the industry as well as residents’ rights

>> Related: What are the Odds of Needing Assisted Living?

What residents are saying

The most common areas of grievance filed with an ombudsman against senior living facilities relate to:

  • Residents’ rights, including the requirement that they be treated with courtesy and respect, giving consideration to their requested preferences
  • Unsatisfactory services, medical or personal, such as issues with facility cleanliness, medication administration, nutrition, or personal hygiene
  • Facility administrative decisions or other management-related matters
  • Finance-related problems, which could include things like the proper management of residents’ funds, or issues around Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security payments

>> Related: How to Recognize and Address Elder Abuse

Supplementing your senior living research

In reality, complaints against senior living facilities are actually quite rare; most are well-run and responsive should any concerns arise. But when making a major decision–especially one that impacts your long-term finances, health, and happiness–it is always best to do your research and arm yourself with as much information as possible, so I highly recommend finding the ombudsman in your area and inquiring about any regulatory violations or complaints lodged against the senior living communities you are considering for yourself or a loved one. For most ombudsmen programs, obtaining this information will require a phone call to the agency, but it is well-worth your time and effort.

To find the ombudsman that covers your geographic region, I suggest starting with a simple Google search for the terms “[city name] long term care ombudsman program.” If no good matches are found, search using your state name instead of your city. As an example, here’s the ombudsmen program for the Triangle area of North Carolina:

It’s important that people know about this helpful resource, which serves as both an advocate for potentially vulnerable residents and offers a bevy of information to those considering a move to a senior living facility.

If you are just beginning your senior living facility search and would like to learn more about the amenities and services available at specific CCRCs in your area, the MyLifeSite community search tool is a great place to begin your research.

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