Personal Injury

California budget cuts jeopardize nursing home resident advocates

John may have been 92 years old and living in a nursing home, but he was no fool. When doctors discovered gangrene on the toes of his left foot, they ordered the toes be removed to save his life. Despite John’s protests, the person assigned to be his power of attorney scheduled the surgery anyway.

But John fought back. He saw a poster in his California nursing home about the Ombudsman program, and he made a call. Ombudsmanship Program Director Kathi Toepel paid John a personal visit and, after insisting they talk privately in his room, he asked her to save his toes.

“I’m 92 years old and want to leave this world with the 10 toes the good Lord gave me,” he said.

Toepel discussed John’s case with his doctor and expressed that John was, in fact, able to make his own healthcare decisions. He wanted to save his toes, and Toepel made sure that his will was done.

John lived another 14 months, but he died the way he wanted, with his body intact. “While I understand these are very difficult decisions for family, friends and caretakers to accept, I know that John died with the dignity and respect he deserved,” Toepel said.

Ombudsmen provide a valuable service to the elderly. Not only do they serve as advocates to nursing home residents, they also investigate and resolve complaints and make unannounced visits to nursing homes to ensure residents’ needs are being met. But this valuable program is in jeopardy in California.

According to the Union Democrat, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used a line item veto to cut the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program out of the budget. The program receives about half its budget from the state. The rest is made up through federal funds and other sources.

While program officials hope the missing state funds will be raised by the community, they are meeting to find ways to through the situation.

This is a tragedy for all nursing home residents, especially the estimated 40 percent who have no family or friends to visit or advocate for them.