Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program - Frequently Asked Questions


The Program's Mission:

The mission of the Ombudsman Program is to advocate for the highest possible quality of life and care for persons receiving long-term care services, including individuals in nursing or assisted living facilities, and people attending adult day care centers or receiving home care services.

What are the goals of the Ombudsman Program?

  • Receive, investigate and attempt to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents of nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.
  • Protect resident's rights.
  • Provide information about long-term care providers to help consumers make an informed choice.
  • Advocate for improving the quality of life for persons receiving long-term care services.
  • Educate the community about long-term care issues.
  • Visit long-term care facilities on a weekly basis through our volunteer ombudsman program.
  • Train long-term care staff.
  • Consult with long-term care providers for quality services.

The Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman office is one of the regional offices of the Virginia Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman in Richmond. Their contact number is 1-800-552-3402.

Ombudsman Program Work in Nursing and Assisted Living Facilities

The Ombudsman Program can assist in resolving complaints about the quality of care and quality of life in these long-term care settings. The services are free and confidential. The Ombudsman can help you understand your rights and that the long-term care facility supports them.

The Ombudsman acts only at the direction and consent of the consumer or their authorized representative. The Ombudsman does not have enforcement power. This often makes way for creative solutions to problems that meet both the consumer's and the provider's interests.

When a consumer cannot speak for himself or herself, the Ombudsman may assist the consumer's legal representative, family member or sponsor on behalf of the consumer.

The program was mandated under the Older Americans Act in 1978 and the regional program for Northern Virginia was established in 1985. The Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman program covers the jurisdictions of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun. We currently cover 107 facilities with 10,113 licensed beds.  

Anyone can call us for information from any location. Our intake phone number is 703-324-5861, TTY 711; if you would like to request reasonable acommodations, please call 703-449-1186 or TTY 711. There are seven paid staff Ombudsmen and approximately 60 Volunteer Ombudsmen that cover 107 facilities in the Northern Virginia region.

Ombudsmen conduct site visits to all of these facilities and open cases when necessary. We also receive requests on the Intake Line to look into opening a case.


What should I do if I have a complaint?

First, we suggest you address your concern to the provider of the long-term care service. Often, your expression of concern is the first step toward resolving a problem.

If you are unable to solve the problem yourself, the Ombudsman can help. Remember that if you do call us, your call will be treated confidentially and you control the extent of our involvement. The Ombudsman acts only at the direction and consent of the consumer or their authorized representative.

The Ombudsman Program paves the way for the solutions of problems arising between providers and consumers. We work to ensure that long-term care services are being provided appropriately and with respect for the consumer's rights. Since the Ombudsman does not have enforcement power, it often makes way for creative solutions to problems that meet both the consumer's and the provider's interests.

The Ombudsman handles complaints about long-term care services and serves as a liaison voicing the needs and concerns of the consumer to providers of long-term care. The Ombudsman often serves as a negotiator between you and the provider to keep little problems from becoming big ones.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is not a licensing/regulatory agency, but may work together with a licensing/regulatory agency.  The Ombudsman does not enforce regulations for long-term care facilities or providers. Where the enforcement of a state or federal law or rule is necessary, the Ombudsman will work on your behalf to coordinate with the proper state agency that has enforcement authority. In these cases, the Ombudsman serves as a broker to link you with the services or agencies you need to help you live a more productive, fulfilling life.

What are Resident's Rights?

You have the right to:

  • Be informed of your rights, rules and regulations governing your care, conduct and responsibilities.
  • Be informed of available services and related charges.
  • Participate in planning your care and treatment.
  • Be informed of reasons for transfer or discharge and be given reasonable advance notice.
  • Voice grievances and recommend changes in policy.
  • Manage your personal financial affairs.
  • Be free from mental and physical abuse and from unauthorized chemical and physical restraints.
  • Confidential treatment of your personal and medical records and approval or refusal of their release.
  • Be treated with recognition of dignity, individuality and privacy.
  • Not perform services for the facility without your consent.
  • Have private communication with persons of your choice and to send and receive unopened mail.
  • Participate in social, religious and community activities.
  • Maintain and use personal clothing and possessions as space permits.
  • Have privacy for visits with your spouse, family and friends.
  • Have information on the rights and responsibilities of residents posted in a visible place.


Tips For Advocates

Be sure to use your senses when you visit a facility! Here are some suggestions:

Look at the resident's condition:

  • Does the resident appear clean?
  • Is the resident's hair clean and combed?
  • Are their nails trimmed and clean?
  • Do the resident's teeth look clean?
  • Are men shaven?
  • Are women free of unwanted facial hair?
  • Are the residents wearing clean and appropriate clothing?
  • Do they have any assistive devices on or near them?
  • Are their glasses clean?
  • Are they getting up and walking around?
  • Do they have the use of a rubber grip to strengthen their muscles so that they don't get contractures?
  • Is the call bell within reach, as well as fresh water?
  • Is the room clean?
  • Is the lighting adequate and soft?
  • Is the dining room pleasant?
  • Is staff providing assistance in helping residents or feeding those who need to be fed?

Touch the resident's hands:

  • Are they dry or chapped?
  • Is the furniture or floor in the room sticky?
  • Are room temperatures comfortable, free of drafts?

Listen to the sounds:

  • How long do the call bells ring before being answered?
  • Are residents being ignored?
  • Does the staff speak or laugh too loudly?
  • Does the staff discuss a resident's personal care or medical condition openly?
  • Is the TV or radio blaring?
  • Is the public address system overused, causing unsettling noises?

Smell for any odors:

  • Do the hallways and rooms have persistent urine or fecal odors?
  • Does the food smell good and look appetizing?


Taste how the food is:

  • Are the menus posted?
  • Are residents served what is on the menu?
  • Is there variety in the menu?
  • Are the meals nutritionally balanced?
  • Are foods served at appropriate temperatures?
  • Are fresh fruits and vegetables served regularly?

Observe activities:

  • Are activities well-attended?
  • Are the residents who need assistance being helped by staff to attend events?
  • Are activities posted in large print for residents to know about?
  • Is there a variety of activities that are appropriate and enjoyable for the residents?
  • Are the activities appropriate for the residents?
  • Are there activities offered on the weekends and in the evenings?

Remember to use good hygiene: Wash your hands before and after visiting individual residents.


What Is The Difference Between Licensed and Unlicensed Facilities?

There has been a rise in the number of illegally operating homes due to the decline in the number of licensed personal care homes. One example of a new expense is the improved fire protections which would involve thousands of dollars to upgrade to.

The Ombudsman program is looking into collaborating with community legal services to help educate hospital discharge planners about the importance of placement in licensed facilities. Ombudsmen are also looking into homes that are unlicensed and advising residents if that's the case.

Unlicensed facilities can impact vulnerable residents in the following ways:

  • No regulatory oversight
  • Untrained or no staff
  • No fire safety or resident safety inspections
  • No voice for residents
  • Fear of eviction or retaliation
  • No health care
  • Deplorable living conditions
  • Poor nutrition
  • No 30-day advance noticed of discharge; no relocation assistance; no possible appeal rights or advocacy opportunities

It's important to go the extra mile and check the licensing agency's website to confirm the facility's licensure status. For nursing facilities, you can check with: Virginia Department of Health, Office of Licensure and Certification at 804-367-2100. For assisted living facilities, you can check with: Virginia Department of Social Services at 703-934-1505. 


Important Phone Numbers:


What are the different types of Power of Attorney (POA)?

Do you know the difference between a Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney? According to the Virginia State Bar Association, a Power of Attorney, or POA, is in effect until the person who is the patient is not capable of handling his/her own affairs. If the person becomes incapacitated or disabled or dies, the POA generally is no longer in effect.

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) is more useful if someone becomes incapacitated the DPOA stays in effect and saves the person from a court proceeding to appoint a guardian. As a practical matter, most attorneys recommend the use of a Durable Power of Attorney over a Power of Attorney because the Durable Power of Attorney is long lasting. For a free download of the "Senior Citizens Handbook" (pages 56-57), please see

Having a Power of Attorney can assist in the management of assets and health care when a person becomes incapacitated. The Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) allows a person to give authority to another person to make financial transactions and make legal decisions on your behalf. The term "durable" means it is in effect even if the person it refers to becomes mentally incompetent. In Virginia, signatures must be witnessed by a notary public. A DPOA is a relatively easy, inexpensive mechanism for allowing another person to handle your legal and financial affairs, but must use your assets for your benefit.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) is an advance directive that allows you to appoint a health care agent (also known as an attorney-in-fact, a proxy, or a surrogate) to make health care decisions for you in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself.  No attorney is required to draft this document, but if you need specific wording that is not as broad as a pre-printed form, you may want to speak with an attorney to draft it to meet your individual needs.

Unless you stipulate otherwise, your health care agent makes decisions for you only if you are no longer able to make health care decisions for yourself. By selecting someone to act as the health care decision maker through a DPAHC, you ensure that someone you trust will oversee decisions and implement your wishes regarding any treatment, not just life-sustaining treatment.

According to the Virginia State Bar Association, a Power of Attorney differs from Guardianship in that Guardianship involves the court appointment of a person to have care and custody of another person who is incapacitated and unable to provide for his or her own personal needs or to manage his or her financial affairs. A Guardianship may not be needed if a person has an adequate Durable Power of Attorney.


The Advance Health Care Directory

The Commonwealth of Virginia Advance Health Care Directive Registry is a secure tool to store important documents that protect your legal rights and ensure your medical wishes are honored in the event that you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own care. This free and secure registry is located on the Virginia Department of Health website and is for Virginia residents. The Commonwealth of Virginia has launched this statewide Advance Health Care Directives Registry, in accordance with § 54.1-2994 of the Code of Virginia.

This free and secure registry is located on the Virginia Department of Health website and is for Virginia residents. The Commonwealth of Virginia has launched this statewide Advance Health Care Directives Registry, in accordance with § 54.1-2994 of the Code of Virginia. To access the Advanced Health Care Directory Registry, go to (or call 1-800-224-0791). There is a direct link to the Virginia State Bar for the Virginia Advance Directive Checklist to help you organize what is needed. There is also a Virginia Advance Directives Primer which gives definitions of terms used and requirements. These are helpful to understand the process and to know that the information is prepared by the Virginia State Bar.

This secure registry allows Virginia residents to store their Advanced Health Care Directive, Health Care Power of Attorney, Declaration of Anatomical Gift and other documents which can only be accessed by medical providers and family members IF the person filling out the registry gives permission.

The Virginia Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is now part of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

The Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination in all programs and services. To request reasonable accommodations or alternate formats, call 703-324-5861 (voice); 711 (TTY) or 703-449-1186.

This publication has been created or produced by Fairfax County with financial assistance, in whole or in part, from the Administration on Aging and/or the Virginia Department for the Aging.  Their website is:  They can be contacted toll free at 1-800-552-5019; TTY 1-800-464-9950.

A Fairfax County, Va. publication. Rev. December 2014



 Northern Virginia
Long-Term Care
Ombudsman Program

12011 Government Center Parkway
Suite 708

Fairfax, VA 22035 

 Intake Line: 703-324-5861
 To request reasonable accommodations,
call TTY 711 or 703-449-1186;
Fax 703-653-1796

8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

E-mail: NVLTCOP@FairfaxCounty.Gov


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