Testimony of Home and Community Ombudsman Manager -- April 21, 2016

Testimony of Tiffany Askew, Manager of Access Living’s Home and Community Ombudsman Program, delivered on April 21, 2016 before the House Human Services Appropriations Committee Meeting.

Good afternoon. My name is Tiffany Askew, and I am the manager of the Home and Community Ombudsman Program at Access Living, a pilot program which is funded through the Long Term Care Ombudsman line item in the Department of Aging budget. I would like to first share a story.

“How will I be able to renew my prescriptions, get to my medical appointments, or even more importantly, explain I am who I say I am, because I can’t leave my house”. These are the words asked of a 40 year old consumer who contacted us because he had lost all of his benefits and services, through no fault of his own. This consumer has a degenerative medical condition and was unable to leave his home, because his health had deteriorated to the point that he is unable to leave his bed.

As it turned out, this consumer was a victim of identity theft and as a result, he was unable to get his medications refilled at the pharmacy, was at risk of having his social security benefits revoked, and for medical care, the emergency room was his only option because he had been informed he was no longer eligible for Medicaid and Medicare services. It was at this point, the consumer reached out to the Ombudsman team at Access Living. During the Ombudsman investigation it was discovered, the person that had stolen the consumer’s identity was working a full time job in Elk Grove Village and receiving full private health benefits under Blue Cross Blue Shield. All of these factors caused the consumer to lose all his benefits and services. With the representation and advocacy of the Ombudsman program, the consumer was able to have all of his health care benefits and medication restored within two weeks.

This is just one story that highlights the work of the Ombudsmen at Access Living. We are part of a new statewide network that serves people throughout Illinois. People who qualify for our help are people with disabilities with home services, people with both Medicaid and Medicare, and any senior. We are available through phone and email, and in person consultation. We not only provide information to people about their rights, but we assist consumers to advocate for themselves in sometimes very complicated health services situations.

Since our very first call in September of 2014, we have provided services to well over 930 consumers across the Chicagoland area. We listen, take our directions from the consumer and we act as their voice to ensure they are able to remain in their own community without being placed in a nursing home.

Because of the lack of appropriations for $2,600,000 for the Long Term Care Ombudsman line item, Access Living is one of the 10 Home and Community Ombudsman programs across the state at risk of eliminating these services to consumers. The Ombudsman program is an expansion of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, and is in a pilot stage. This expansion is federally and state funded, and although there is an active contract in place, Access Living is still owed more than $671,000 from the state in FY 16.

We have made adjustments to maintain the program as long as possible, including the unfortunate need to laying off 3 of 8 Ombudsman advocates, instituting a travel restriction, and eliminating outreach strategies in an effort to relieve the agency of funds. As written into law in August 2013, the expansion of the home and community ombudsman program should be appropriated, just as the Long Term Care Program receives funding. With the current budget restrictions, this has not been the case. Without these funds our program is slated to end much sooner than the contract agreement.

Cutting the Ombudsman program means that thousands of consumers will lose the opportunity to get the support they need to live their lives in the community. We ask you today to ensure that the Home and Community Ombudsmen will be fully funded for FY 16 and FY 17.

Contact: Tiffany Askew, taskew@accessliving.org