Ombudsman for elderly would be moved to new agency under Knowles' order

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state's official watchdog for the elderly would be transferred to a new agency and gain more autonomy under an executive order signed this week by Gov. Tony Knowles.

In recent years the office of the long-term care ombudsman has been hurt by reports of interference with investigations.

Currently, the ombudsman and the state Pioneers' Homes which the ombudsman oversees are both part of the state Department of Administration. The Commission on Aging, in the same department, oversees the ombudsman, and includes some members with authority over the Pioneers' Homes.

Having the ombudsman in that agency ''can carry the appearance of a conflict of interest,'' Knowles wrote this week to legislative leaders.

His executive order would transfer the ombudsman's office to the Mental Health Trust Authority, part of the state Department of Revenue, which doesn't have direct involvement with long-term care services.

The last ombudsman, Kim Kline, resigned in November after four months on the job, saying she was hobbled by the Commission on Aging and its executive director.

Kline said she found the position unworkable under the Commission on Aging. Even small expenditures were questioned. The commission's executive director seemed to make excuses for one of the Pioneers' Home administrators, Kline said.

Before Kline, the previous ombudsman, Frances Purdy, had run-ins with other state officials when investigated the Pioneers' Homes.

The Commission on Aging requested the transfer of the ombudsman's office. Advocates for the elderly also pushed for the change.

''That's going to be beneficial for the elderly because they are going to get the ombudsman out from underneath that connection,'' said Lisa Caress-Beu, whose mother lived in the Anchorage Pioneers' Home before her death.

The Mental Health Trust Authority manages land grants and a fund of more than $300 million, using earnings to provide services for people with mental illness, mental retardation, psychosis due to alcoholism, or Alzheimer's disease. About 70 percent of the Alaskans who need long-term care also are beneficiaries of the Mental Health Trust Authority.

Executive orders are submitted on the first day of the legislative session, said Knowles' spokesman Bob King. If legislators take no action on the executive order, it becomes law in 60 days. If they oppose it, they must do so in joint session during that window of time.

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