(05/11/20) NEW ORLEANS — May is Older Americans Month, a national observation under the auspices of the Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Older Americans Month provides an opportunity for acknowledging the Louisiana Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program that is administered in the Greater New Orleans area by the LSU AgCenter, said Beth Gambel, AgCenter agent in Jefferson Parish.
The program advocates for the elderly and others living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“The AgCenter staff in Jefferson Parish, along with three ombudsmen, provide research-based information relating to health and nutrition to many nursing home residents and aging members of the area,” Gambel said.
The mission of this statewide effort is to educate and assist residents, their families or other responsible parties, and the community in resolving issues and programs regarding nursing homes, assisted living facilities and residential home care.
The New Orleans region includes Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes.
“When the organization announced the 2020 theme, ‘Make Your Mark’ late last fall, novel coronavirus and COVID-19 were unheard of by most of the global community. No safe distancing, no sheltering in place, no self-quarantine,” said AgCenter extension associate Beverly Gianna, who serves as ombudsman in the Greater New Orleans area.
The pandemic has shone a glaring light on nursing homes, care for the elderly in general and on the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program designed to advocate for and give a voice to the elderly in this country, Gianna said.
In the Greater New Orleans area, approximately 90 nursing homes, assisted living and group homes provide housing and services for an estimated 5,000 residents.
Throughout Louisiana, some 35,000 residents live in 400 nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
One of those is Gladys LeBreton, who offers a unique perspective on the ombudsman program.
“Gladys, who will soon celebrate her 100th birthday, helped establish Louisiana’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in the early 1980s,” Gianna said.
LeBreton became one of the first certified ombudsmen in the country. She was also a founder of one of the first not-for-profit senior living communities in New Orleans and, unfortunately, the site of the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana.
“Gladys was among the first and the oldest to be diagnosed with the virus and remains one of the oldest to survive,” Gianna said.
LeBreton began advocating for reforms to Louisiana nursing homes after becoming a caregiver for her late husband, former Louisiana legislator Edward F. LeBreton Jr., whose illness required nursing home care.
She soon discovered that not all long-term residences were equal.
“Following his death, Gladys decided to put her time and political connections to good use and help shore up the state’s nursing homes,” Gianna said.
“I was not anybody’s enemy; I wasn’t trying to cause problems,” LeBreton recalled. “I was trying to help the residents, the staff and also the administrators to smooth problems out.”
Spending the next 10 years as an ombudsman, LeBreton advocated on behalf of residents and lobbied the Louisiana Legislature when necessary.
She helped form the Citizens for Quality Nursing Home Care, which in turn successfully worked to get a bill introduced and passed by the Legislature that created the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Louisiana.
“Until the day we no longer breathe, we have purpose,” she said.
Ombudsmen services are confidential and free of charge. The women and men who staff the program receive training in residents’ rights, problem solving and laws affecting the elderly living in long-term residential communities.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Louisiana is administered through the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs. More information is available online at www.goea.louisiana.gov/ombudsman.
Gladys LeBreton, who will soon be 100 years old, helped form the Citizens for Quality Nursing Home Care, which in turn successfully worked to get a bill introduced and passed by the Legislature that created the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Louisiana. (Photo provided)