Only approximately 600 of the roughly 1,500 assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities in New York had an assigned volunteer ombudsman as of January, according to the findings of an audit recently released by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

That means that the remaining 900 long-term care facilities in the state are covered by just 50 paid local staff, about half the minimum number recommended in New York State Office for the Aging guidelines, which are based on information from the Institute of Medicine.

Among their duties, ombudsmen identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents. The state’s assisted living communities and nursing homes are home to more than 160,000 residents, according to NYSOFA.

“Ensuring that residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers have regular and open contact with ombudsmen to resolve issues and provide a voice to those who feel overwhelmed is crucial to ensuring their quality of life,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The Office for the Aging needs to improve access to these important services for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.”

The audit found issues with recruiting and retaining volunteers and said a restructuring of the program that resulted in larger service areas for a reduced number of local offices could have contributed to the decline.

The auditors also found issues with ombudsman training. A look at training records for 50 volunteers for one calendar year found that 31, or 62%, did not meet the annual training requirements.

Among DiNapoli’s recommendations to the NYSOFA:

  • Identify and understand reasons for the decline in volunteers and differences in regional program results.
  • Develop and implement strategies to improve access to ombudsman services, including access to volunteer ombudsmen.
  • Strengthen efforts to ensure that volunteer ombudsmen receive required annual training.