By Patricia Hunter, Washington State Long-Term Care Ombuds
My name is Patricia Hunter and I am the Long-Term Care Ombuds for Washington State. The Long Term Care Ombuds Program is charged with protecting the rights, dignity and well-being of everyone living in licensed long-term care in our state. I am also a member of the Dementia Action Collaborative (DAC), the workgroup that oversees the implementation of the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.
In my work within long-term care communities and with people living with dementia and their families, I see the ways advocacy improves outcomes for families every day.
For example, nursing homes and other long-term care communities were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with fellow advocates, resident families and lawmakers, we created a law to require emergency planning for long-term care settings in the event of a pandemic or other health crisis.
This was in response to the many concerns we received that were related to communication. One of the top concerns we received during the pandemic was a lack of communication between residents or their families and long-term care communities. Complaints were also received from doctors and nurses that they could not reach facility staff to communicate medical orders for treatments or to receive updates on their patients. Families, in particular, could not reach staff or their loved ones living in long-term care. This was not just during the initial crisis of the pandemic, but a year or more into it. The new law requires the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to work with stakeholders to create stronger communication plans during pandemics or emergencies.
Together, our legislative advocacy for improved services makes a real difference.
This year, I am proud to support HB 1646, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Bateman from the 22nd Legislative District in Olympia. This bill instructs the DAC to update our Alzheimer’s State Plan now that the original plan is five years old. In updating the plan, the DAC will pay special attention to gaps in the availability of dementia-specific services in our state, including respite care for families who shoulder so much of the burden.
The DAC has done great work in the last five years making progress on a number of the 134 recommendations of the original plan. The group has created a public awareness campaign about the importance of early detection and diagnosis, stood up a provider education program and created a legal planning toolkit for families. In that time, our state population has grown and the age wave has accelerated. To be sure we are best serving our seniors, it is time to take a look at what has been accomplished, the priorities that remain, and to assess which new recommendations are necessary.
Advocacy Day 2022
I am excited to join the Alzheimer’s Association for their annual Advocacy Day, taking place on Feb 9, 2022. Please join us to talk with those who represent you in Olympia and ask them to support HB 1646. Learn more and register today at alzwa.org/advocacyday.