DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa agency that advocates for the elderly and people with disabilities will no longer send staff to visit nursing homes because of budget cuts.

The Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office has eliminated in-state travel after losing a quarter of its nearly $2 million budget this fiscal year, The Des Moines Register reported . In-state travel can cost up to $85,000 annually.

Data from the office says staff visited more than 5,000 care facilities in the 2015-16 fiscal year. State law allows the ombudsman’s office to enter care facilities without notice to access resident care records and conduct interviews.

About 53,000 Iowa residents live in nursing homes or assisted-living centers.

Deanna Clingan-Fischer was the long-term care ombudsman at the time of the cuts. She recently resigned the post and started a new job as the Iowa State University ombudsman.

“It was quite a massive cut,” Clingan-Fischer said. “I made a decision to not lay off people, partly because we were severely understaffed as it was.”

More than 80 percent of the ombudsman’s budget goes toward salaries.

John Hale, an Ankeny consultant who specializes in issues affecting the elderly, said the budget cuts must be reversed.

“The Iowans charged with protecting the health, safety and rights of residents in Iowa nursing homes can no longer go to these places in person to thoroughly investigate complaints and fully advocate for residents,” Hale wrote. “I refuse to accept that there is no money available to fund such essential services.”

Lori Smetanka is the executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care in Washington, D.C. She said it’ll be difficult to thoroughly investigate complaints without facility visits.

“A regular on-site presence allows them not only to respond quickly to complaints but also to identify some concerns early, before they become big or serious,” Smetanka said.

Interim Long-Term Care Ombudsman Cindy Pederson said staff is using telephones and other technology to connect with residents.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com