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Senator Gardner visits with some of his bosses in Wauseon

Senator Randy Gardner met with the Resident Council of Heartland of Wauseon to answer questions and to hear how residents feel about the amount individuals receive as a personal needs allowance under Medicaid. Senator Gardner was invited to discuss these and other issues by an ombudsman with ABLE's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

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The Heartland of Wauseon Site Council faced a situation brought to their attention from some of their members. Those individuals who receive their health care from Medicaid have a limited personal allowance of $45 per month for personal necessities.

The allowance had increased January 2014 from $40. It is due to increase to $50 in 2015. The resident council requested that Janet Tadsen, the ombudson at Heartland of Wasueon, get in touch with a state legislator. State Senator Randy Gardner of the Second District agreed to attend.

The nursing home does provide some personal care items to the residents as part of living in Heartland. However, if a resident desires a different brand of a personal product, they have to purchase it within their allowance. Examples could include, but are not limited to, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, tissues, soaps, incontinence items, deodorant, etc.

Additionally, the resident council president, Chris Tuckerman noted that he receives some therapy which is not covered by Medicaid. This additional care would be paid from the allowance.Without support from local family or friends, a resident must be very careful to budget the $11.25 per week against purchasing a personal item, such as a craft or hobby materials, a greeting card, a favorite snack, magazine, shoes, hat or gloves.

A weekly hair appointment can cost $12; a meal outside the facility can range from $5 to $10 and so on. There are some staff members who use their personal funds to help some residents with a desired item. Tuckerman had proposed that the personal allowance should be $150 per month. He also asked for a time line for his response.After Tuckerman's presentation, senator Gardner, a former history teacher, showed that he had done his homework.

"First of all, I am glad that we finally raised the allowance in 2014 from the $40 figure," he said. "The current budget has the allowance increasing to $50 in 2015."

Compared to an average of other states ($50) and the federal minimum guidelines ($30), we seem close to be at the average and above other states.

"Gardner made no promises and his response was measured, yet assuring.

"As I serve on the Medicaid - Health Human Services committee within the Senate, I will talk to the Ohio Health Care Association and retrieve some more data, particularly if we can increase the personal care items available for the residents to choose from at the nursing homes.

"I am more aware of this aspect of your care and lives here and I will be learning more so the state can better address your concerns. We (the state) don't spend money just to spend money. If Ohio can spend more and provide a higher quality of life, then we should take the steps to do so.

"There were other discussions brought up by the residents on the availability of local or state grants to bring about some transportation availability for the residents to utilize now that Fulton County discontinued their services. Again, the senator took note of their concerns and said his office will be in touch.

The role of an ombudsman

Ohio's Office of the State Long-term Care Ombudsman advocates for people receiving home care, assisted living and nursing home care. Paid and volunteer staff work to resolve complaints about services, help people select a provider and offer information about benefits and consumer rights.

Ombudsmen do not "police" nursing homes and home health agencies. Instead, they work with providers, residents, their families and other representatives to resolve problems and concerns. Ombudsmen advocate a person-centered approach to meeting the needs and honoring the preferences of their clients. Ombudsmen link residents with services or agencies, offer advice on selecting long-term care providers, inform consumers about their rights and provide information and assistance with benefits and insurance.