Pablo Casals, a world renown cellist, once said, “I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.” As an Elder Law attorney, I often write or speak about subjects that include the word ‘care’ – such as long-term care planning, Medicare, family caregivers, and care planning for special needs children. One of the most rewarding things I do is assisting families in securing needed care for their loved ones. It’s always heartbreaking, though, to see friends and family members feel helpless when loved ones are taken advantage of by those purporting to care for them. That’s why, in honor of November being National Alzheimer’s Disease Month, National Family Caregivers Month, National Home Care and Hospice Month, and National Long-Term Care Awareness Month, I want to share two often-overlooked resources available to those who are seeking the best quality of care for their loved ones.
Have you ever heard of an ombudsman? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. Even many who have heard of them don’t fully understand their role. I recently met with a network of professional elder care providers from across the greater Baton Rouge area to hear from a local ombudsman. The room was packed as we gathered to listen to her speak about her role. Some of the attending professionals were hearing this information for the first time even though they work with the elderly every day.
‘Ombudsman’ is a Swedish word that means “citizen representative.” According to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs (GOEA), ombudsmen work with residents, their families, community organizations, and other interested parties to address concerns that affect the lives of residents at long-term care facilities. Through the GOEA, Louisiana has a state ombudsman, regional ombudsmen, and at least one ombudsman in each parish who is responsible for visiting long-term care facilities.
Louisiana law forbids any caregiver at any facility to interfere with an ombudsman’s free access to speak with patients or protect their confidentiality. While ombudsmen do not directly prosecute or solve cases of abuse or neglect, they provide a voice for patients and make sure their concerns – ranging from missing laundry to physical harm or asset exploitation – are addressed. Ombudsmen are trained to recognize and speak on behalf of resident’s rights, which are often overlooked or violated by residents’ own family members or employed caregivers. You can call toll free at 1-866-632-0922, locally at 225-342-7100, or visit www.goea.louisiana.gov to learn more about the ombudsman program and how you can help identify and respond to elder abuse.
Individuals should also be aware that a recent Louisiana law now allows family members or other interested parties to bring a civil lawsuit against any agent under a Power of Attorney (POA) who may be exploiting a person’s assets rather than utilizing those assets for the person’s needs. While prior law already directed a mandatary (the agent named in an individual’s POA) to provide any information or an account of actions as requested by the principal (the individual who named the mandatary to act on his or her behalf), it didn’t provide for circumstances in which the principal could not request an accounting because they were mentally or physically unable to do so. Act 356 of the 2014 Louisiana Legislature makes provisions for this while also protecting against frivolous lawsuits. Furthermore, concerned third parties now have another course of action beyond simply notifying Elderly Protective Services when they suspect cases of exploitation – petitioning the court under Act 356 to keep a mandatary from further expending any of the principal’s assets until an investigation is complete.
I am grateful to work alongside numerous professionals in my area who are passionate about providing quality of care to their clients. As I regularly recommend, individuals planning for long-term care should consult with qualified elder law and healthcare professionals to ensure that their best interests are fully and legally provided for. Ombudsmen and Act 356 are two additional resources available to assist in the care of those we hold dear.
Mrs. Melancon has engaged in the practice of law in Louisiana for the past 17 years. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, special needs planning, elder law and probate. She is also accredited by the VA to give advice regarding veterans’ benefits. For more information, please contact her at 225-744-0027. You may also visit her website at www.LegacyCenterLa.com.