Nursing Home Whistleblowers Powerless to Blow Whistle

To prevent the neglect and abuse of the elderly in nursing homes, in 1972 Congress passed a law mandating that each state set up an ombudsman program to identify and investigate complaints. Thirty years later, neglect, abuse and preventable deaths continue in nursing facilities throughout the country, and ombudsmen frequently find themselves powerless to protect elderly residents.

As part of a weeklong investigative series on the quality of care in the nation's nursing homes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters interviewed more than two dozen ombudsmen from coast to coast who said their attempts to blow the whistle on bad care are often dismissed by state regulators and demeaned by the nursing home industry.

"Our goal is to prevent harm to residents," said Esther Houser, Oklahoma''s state ombudsman. "It''s a mandate, but it''s been terribly, weakly enforced, and it''s been either ignored or abused in many states."

The investigators found that the vast majority of the nation's 9,000 ombudsmen are poorly trained, unpaid and often overworked volunteers who can do little more than advise residents of their rights. Many volunteers quit out of frustration.

To read the full St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, click here.

To read other articles in the investigative series, go to: