Grace Lee is the social worker at the Serra Nursing Home in Millbrae. She and other staff know just how important the ombudsmen are to the patients.
"They come here to make sure that we are providing quality care for the residents. And there's no real outside agency that does that for the people who live here," said Lee.
The Ombudsman Program also investigates elder abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in California. But when the governor signed the state budget, he slashed $3.8 million from the program.
Tippy Erwin heads the San Mateo county office.
"With the stroke of a pencil, he's removed all the state funding for the Ombudsman Program," said Erwin.
Just how severe is it? Staff at the San Mateo office may have to be cut if the program can't get adequate funding. Already, they've had to take cuts in salaries and benefits.
For San Mateo County's program, it means losing state funding of a $100,000 – a huge chunk of its $500,000 budget. And there's no guarantee, they'll get all of the anticipated $125,000 from the county this year.
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier hopes that will happen, but she adds, there's only so much counties can do to fund programs the state has cut.
"We have a structural deficit because of that. At some point, we have to say enough," said Tissier.
There is still some federal funding but now, in this tough economic climate, most of the money will have to come from fundraising, grants and other private revenue sources.
The six staff members in the San Mateo office and 49 volunteers keep an eye on 487 facilities. They handle 2,000 complaints a year. Erwin says cutbacks will mean fewer visits.