When a senior needs reputable guidance, locating a qualified professional takes research and patience. Professionals such as elder law attorneys, ombudsman and geriatric care managers, who specialize in working with seniors, focus on the needs of seniors in a particular area and can provide beneficial services.
A good way to start searching for a professional is to ask friends, clergy and other professionals for referrals. If a senior knows a trusted professional, that professional would naturally have contacts in other areas. If a direct referral is not a viable option, seniors can locate elder-focused professionals in other ways. The CSA Locator is a great way to find professionals who have gained and maintained the Certified Senior Advisor designation. Click here to search for a CSA in your area.
Elder Law Attorney
An elder law attorney is responsible for understanding many areas of law, including Medicare and Medicaid, senior housing, estate and trust planning, and health care directives. A senior needs to find out if an elder law attorney has comprehensive knowledge in all of these areas. A senior’s future, family and estate are at stake, so finding an experienced and trustworthy elder law attorney is essential.
There are several ways to find accomplished elder law attorneys. One is the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF), which provides the Elder Law Attorney (CELA) certification. NELF is “a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and improvement of the professional competence of lawyers in the area of elder law” and is the only organization that the American Bar Association recognizes to certify elder law attorneys.
For attorneys to become certified, they must meet certain criteria. Generally, their practice must be devoted to working with seniors, and they must pass an exam, with re-certification required every five years.
According to NELF, there are over 400 certified elder law attorneys practicing in the U.S. today, represented on the NELF website with a map of certified attorneys by state. Click here to find a certified attorney.
Other ways of finding an experienced elder law attorney are:
- AARP – www.aarp.org
- State Bar Association – www.hg.org
- The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys – www.naela.org – is a professional association of lawyers dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to the elderly.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the National Elder Law Foundation’s websites strongly suggest that before hiring an elder law attorney, one should ask the following questions:
- How long has the attorney been in practice?
- What percentage of the practice is devoted to elder law?
- What is the attorney’s area of emphasis?
- How long has the attorney been in this particular field?
- What is the fee for the initial consultation?
- What information should you bring to your first meeting?
Looking for an elder law attorney through reputable resources and asking questions will help seniors locate a qualified attorney specific to their needs.
Geriatric Care Manager
As people age, it is natural to require more assistance with activities such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals and transportation. A geriatric care manager (GCM) is a professional dedicated to assisting older adults and assuring that their requirements are met. GCMs have been trained and have experience in many fields related to the aging adult, including nursing, gerontology, social work and psychology.
The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM), a not-for-profit organization which provides older adults and consumers with professional support, says GCMs are hired to do many of the following tasks for seniors and their families:
- Conduct care-planning assessments to identify problems, eligibility for assistance and needs for services
- Screen, arrange and monitor in-home help or other services
- Provide crisis intervention
- Act as a liaison to families who live far away
- Assist with moving an older adult to or from a retirement complex, care home or nursing home
- Offer counseling and support
- Provide advocacy within the medical and government systems
While there is no formal licensing that takes place to become a GCM, the NAPGCM does require that members abide by its standard rules of conduct and that members on its GCM referral list have the following qualifications:
- Education: B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. degree in a field related to care management, i.e., counseling, nursing, mental health, social work, psychology or gerontology.
- Elder care specialization: Primary engagement in the direct practice, or administration or supervision of client-centered services for the elderly and their families.
- Formal training: Supervised experience in the field of care management.
The NAPGCM website will define and list members as certified geriatric care managers if they are any of the following: care manager certified by the National Academy of Certified Care Managers, a certified case manager from the Commission for Case Manager Certification, or a certified advanced social work case manager or certified social work case manager from the National Association of Social Workers.
The NAPGCM’s website provides a search tool to help find qualified elder care professionals. Click here to find a geriatric care manager.
As advocates for seniors who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, ombudsmen are available resources for seniors and their families. They not only provide information about finding a facility and how to get quality care, but also act as a liaison between seniors and organizations when there is a complaint. The Older Americans Act requires every state in the U.S. to have an ombudsman program, which manages complaints and promotes improvements in the long-term care system.
The ombudsman programs are directed by the Administration on Aging (AOA), which has 8,700 volunteers and more than 1,300 staff who are certified to handle complaints from seniors and their families. In 2008, over 270,000 complaints were filed by over 182,000 individuals. Additionally, ombudsmen delivered information on long-term care to over 325,000 people.
The AARP lists the responsibilities of a long-term care ombudsman as:
- Resolving complaints made by or for residents of long-term care facilities
- Educating consumers and long-term care providers about residents’ rights and good care practices
- Promoting community involvement through volunteer opportunities
- Providing information to the public on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and services, residents’ rights, and legislative and policy issues
- Advocating for residents’ rights and quality care in nursing homes, personal care, residential care and other long-term care facilities
- Promoting the development of citizen organizations, family councils and resident councils
A summary of efforts made nationally by long-term care ombudsmen can be found in the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS 2010 data).
To locate an ombudsman who can help, use one of these helpful resources:
- Long-term care facilities post a list of ombudsmen’s offices and telephone numbers for each state. If you can’t find the sign, ask the staff.
- The National Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Resource Center, run by the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), has a goal to ”improve the quality and availability of protective services for adults with disabilities and older persons who are abused, neglected or exploited and are unable to protect their own interests.” NAPSA operates the National Adult Protective Services Resource Center (NAPSRC) through a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging.
- Full Circle of Care offers a contact list by state at www.fullcirclecare.org/states/stateombs.html.
- Call www.eldercare.gov to ask for the local ombudsman program that serves your area.
Seniors can streamline their search for a quality professional with these resources. Professional assistance can be the necessary step for seniors and families to find the peace and stability they desire.