October is National Long-Term Care Residents’ Rights Month, a time to not only call attention to the rights of residents in long-term care (LTC) facilities – nursing homes and assisted living facilities — but to also acknowledge the contributions many residents have made that have bettered our communities. This year’s Residents’ Rights Month theme is Inspiring Unity Within Our Community.

Residents’ Rights Month presents an opportunity to raise awareness of resident rights and emphasize the importance of fostering meaningful community within the facility and encouraging residents’ connection to their local community. The federal Nursing Home Reform Law guarantees residents’ rights and places a strong emphasis on individual dignity, choice, and self-determination. The law also requires nursing homes to “promote and protect the rights of each resident.”

These rights have contributed to improvements to LTC facilities over the years, but we all know we can do better by our community members who currently reside in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

We have been reminded that being a part of a community is essential to our well-being. Unfortunately, as many as 50 percent of residents of LTC facilities do not receive regular visitors. Throughout the pandemic when COVID precautions limited activities and group dining, people were also physically disconnected from other residents and staff. Residents were disconnected from the broader local community when visitation was restricted, and many residents were unable to leave their facilities to participate in outside activities.

As we emerge from the height of the pandemic, people are looking for ways to reengage in their community, including through volunteerism. There may be no more rewarding opportunity than through volunteering with the New Mexico Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP). Ombudsman staff and volunteers work daily to promote residents’ rights, assist residents with complaints and provide education about LTC to residents, friends, family and staff. The more Ombudsman volunteers we have, the further our resident-directed advocacy can reach. So, if this work speaks to people the way it does to LTCOP representatives, we want them to know they would make a great Ombudsman volunteer. Call LTCOP at 1-866-451-2901 to stand up and be the voice for residents.

We hope everyone joins in inspiring unity within our community by celebrating, by reconnecting with residents they know, and by visiting a long-term care facility in their community. While visiting, look for the Resident Rights poster which can be found in every facility throughout New Mexico. If people become aware of something that may not respect resident rights, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program wants to know– statewide and confidential – at 1-866-451-2901.

Carmen Bliss
Santa Fe