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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Care oversight office loses funding

After 14 years, Medicaid says claims not allowed

Volunteer long-term  care ombudsman Linda Howe, right, makes visits twice a month to Bernice Oatney and her husband, Dick, along with their cat, Puddy, at the Cooper George senior living facility in Spokane.   (Dan Pelle)
Volunteer long-term care ombudsman Linda Howe, right, makes visits twice a month to Bernice Oatney and her husband, Dick, along with their cat, Puddy, at the Cooper George senior living facility in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

The future of the state office charged with protecting the rights of residents of nursing homes and assisted-living centers is in doubt after officials learned it will lose a third of its funding.

The state long-term care ombudsman’s office was informed last month that the federal Medicaid funding it has received since expanding the program statewide in 1996 would no longer be available after Dec. 31.

The program, mandated by the federal Older Americans Act, promotes the quality of life of long-term care residents and strives to eliminate abuse, neglect and exploitation. In Washington state, it is administered by the Department of Commerce but receives most of its state and federal funding through the Department of Social and Health Services.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “requests that the State of Washington discontinue claiming the costs of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program for federal Medicaid reimbursement,” wrote Region 10 financial analyst Treva Wornath in an e-mail to DSHS.

CMS spokeswoman Stephanie Magill said the review was part of “ongoing fiscal oversight” of Medicaid expenditures.

The decision will result in a budget reduction to the ombudsman’s office of $306,000 in the current fiscal year and $612,000 in 2012.

“That’s big bucks to us,” said state ombudsman Louise Ryan. “We may have to close programs. We haven’t figured it all out yet.”

The program, which employs Ryan and two staff members and contracts for statewide coverage through 13 regional offices, has an annual budget of about $1.8 million from state and federal funds.

The loss of federal funding is in addition to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s across-the-board budget cuts this year, which amounted to a $44,000 loss to the ombudsman program and a supplemental budget cut of $62,000, effective July 1, Ryan said.

However, even before the loss of Medicaid reimbursement, the ombudsman program was funded at a level that allowed it to serve only about 60 percent of the state’s long-term care residents, according to the Commerce Department website.

In northeastern Washington, the ombudsman program is administered by SNAP, which employs three people to cover Ferry, Spokane, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Whitman counties.

Linda Petrie, the regional ombudsman, and her staff recruit, train and manage 47 volunteers who respond to complaints by residents of veterans’ homes, nursing facilities, adult family homes and boarding homes with a total of 6,700 beds.

“It’s devastating when this kind of thing happens,” said Petrie, who started the program with SNAP in 1996. “You put so much work into building up the volunteers.”

CMS informed the state Department of Social and Health Services last month “that claiming federal match was not allowable,” said Bill Moss, director for Home and Community Services.

Given the current budget shortfall, there are no plans by the state to make up for the loss of federal funding.

Moss said the state will ask CMS for an extension through the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Without Medicaid, Moss said, “There is not adequate funding to do what is expected of the ombudsman program.”

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