We’ve not done a call to action in a long time but this is important and it's time to make calls and write emails.
SB-652 weakens the Texas Long-term Care Ombudsman Program and I’m very surprised that Senators Schwertner and Perry would author it. Senator Perry is Vice Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and that's bad news because it means this bill has a good chance of getting support.
Let me start by saying we would NOT NOT NOT have gotten through the pandemic with what little mental and emotional health we managed to retain were it not for our ombudsmen. Even they, at times, were prevented from advocating to their full potential. But ombudsmen were often the only people there for our loved ones in our absence, the only ones deemed essential enough to enter the building even when hospice aides were kept out.
For that reason, I will advocate with my every breath for the rights of residents to have the full support of ombudsmen as currently provided in state and federal law AND for ombudsmen to retain the full access granted to them as currently provided in state and federal law without erosion.
If you agree, the phone numbers for the members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee are at the end of this post. If any of these are your Senators, please give them a call. If you want to wait for Part 2 and Part 3, I’ll try to get those up ASAP because there are no resident-related reasons I can find for our Senate HHS committee to accept this bill.
Okay. Let’s go.
I’ve looked over SB-652 (underlined sections in the filed bill are what is NEW to existing statute and/or federal law) and I see nothing that helps residents or ombudsmen themselves, only restrictions that benefit facilities, limit ombudsman access, narrow language already in law, and (see if you see what I see) a provision that appears to be retaliation for the bill filed last session by Representative Spiller at the request of Texas Caregivers for Compromise that required long-term care facilities to put the LTC Ombudsman’s phone number on websites. (that bill, as you know passed)
There is SO much to talk about that I need to post this in parts so I’m starting with THAT part. It’s actually the least egregious on my list.
On page 3, line 23 the bill requires the LTC Ombudsman office to put on every one of its publications a disclosure statement that (1) the office acts independently of the commission, (that means Texas HHSC) (2) the office does not regulate long-term care facilities; and (3) information the office publishes is for educational purposes only.
The difference in the phone number on the website that WE requested last session and this requirement in SB-652 this session (which is clearly being requested by a provider group) is that our request came from a genuine and sincere desire to help residents when families are stuck on the outside of locked doors, unable to access residents, or bewildered with no idea where to seek help.
The disclosure being proposed in SB-652 looks like a tit-for-tat clause but it’s also worded to help facilities by intentionally or unintentionally discouraging residents and their families from involving the Texas Long-term Care Ombudsman Program in communities. That spares facilities investigations.
A resident or family member sees that disclaimer and thinks, “pfft, they can’t help me anyway” so the disclosure statement might as well read, “This document is of absolutely no use to you and neither are we because we are a wholly ineffective waste of your tax dollars. Have a nice day.”
Of course that is not what is says and the argument will be made that the disclosure is meant to prevent confusion. But it creates it.
Ombudsmen explain their solution-seeking process to residents and families in a clear question/answer way prior to attempting to assist them. We should not be expecting families or residents to understand a disclosure-statement or that the program is is independent of the Texas Health and Human Services system even after they read that statement.
Which causes the greater harm? The rare incident where a family member is confused about the enforcement authority of the LTC Ombudsman Program because they are independent from Texas HHSC OR the multitudes of documents inadvertently misleading families of residents to believe the program is ineffective and cannot help? Which level of confusion merits the concern of our legislature?
Despite working most my adult life in local government, the first time I heard the word “ombudsman”, I assumed it was another bureaucrat from a long list of agencies that would not help my mother isolated in long-term care so I had no faith in the program. I cannot imagine how little faith I would have had if I seen that disclosure statement in 2020 on every single LTC Ombudsman publication I read. Nor can I tell you how much reluctance I have heard from families since this group began when I, myself, have said, "I think you need to contact your ombudsman". They are already concerned about retaliation and developing a bad relationship with their facility. Add a disclaimer that says "this document is just so you can learn, we aren't really gonna help you"?
Yeah, that disclosure statement is a LTC advocacy guillotine.
This is WHY we are Texas Caregivers for Compromise and we are #notgoingaway.
I’ll get Part 2 up as soon as I can. Here's the link to the full bill:
And here are the names and phone numbers of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services
Lois W. Kolkhorst, Chair (512) 463-0118
Charles Perry, Vice - Chair (512) 463-0128
César Blanco (512) 463-0129
Sen. Bob Hall (512) 463-0102
Sen. Kelly Hancock (512) 463-0109
Sen. Bryan Hughes (512) 463-0101
Sen. Morgan LaMantia (512) 463-0127
Sen. Borris L. Miles (512) 463-0113
Sen. Kevin Sparks (512) 463-0131