A new service to protect the rights of patients in Montgomery County nursing homes has been set up by the county Division of Elder Affairs.

The Nursing Home Patients' Ombudsman Program handles complaints from nursing home patients, their families or other people interested in local nursing facilities.

In the past, the State Office of Aging has been responsible for handling such complaints and questions. The Office of Aging recently delegated the responsibility for Montgomery County residents in nursing homes to the Office of Family Resources, Division of Elder Affairs.

The coordinator of the new program is Kay Mehlferber, a registered nurse who has a master's degree in human services administration and gerontology. She has had 15 years experience in the field of aging.

The ombusdman program is to provide advocacy, community education on nursing home procedures, problems and policies and coordination for community involvement in nursing home improvements. Addtional responsibilities are the monitoring of federal, state and local laws, regulations and policies on long-term care facilities and investigation and resolution of complaints.

Mehlferber said that all investigations are completely confidential and no complainant's name will be used without permission. The program can be reached by calling 468-4433 or by coming to the Division of Elder Affairs Office, 3930 Ferrara Ave., Wheaton, in the former Holiday Park Elementary School.