A program that advocates for "institutionalized elderly" in Utah leads the nation in resolving complaints but is underfunded, understaffed and slow, according to a study that compares it to similar programs in other states.

The Community Coalition of Utah released the report Friday. It compares programs on nine shared characteristics: funding, professional staff, volunteers, visits to facilities, complaint resolution, placement, independence, legal representation and councils.Using studies published in 1990 and 1991, as well as recent telephone and mail surveys of state programs, the study focuses on Utah and 16 states that were either designated most successful or are neighboring state programs.

Congress required state ombudsman programs as part of the Older American Act because of "growing concern over the poor quality of care in nursing homes," the report says.

A federal study said the most successful programs have high visibility, effectively attract, train and keep volunteers, resolve complaints fast and has active, positive publicity campaigns. It also cited innovative funding, strong enabling legislation, legal support and independence.

Utah doesn't fare well in most of those areas, although the report says it does "not necessarily reflect the quality, efficiency or dedication" of the Utah program.

Among the findings:

- A federal study placed Utah's program in the bottom 25 percent nationally.

- The Utah program is in the bottom 10 percent in total funding. It is in the bottom 20 percent in spending for each long-term-care bed.

- Two thirds of the states surpass Utah in professional staff per bed ratio.

- Utah has less than one trained volunteer per 1,000 beds.

- While most successful programs visit facilities weekly or monthly, Utah is one of five programs without regular visits.

- Although Utah resolves complaints 98 percent of the time, ranking third, it responds slower to life-threatening complaints than 80 percent of the programs and is the slowest in response to non-life-threatening complaints.

- Utah has above-average independence and its legal representation is also above average.

Tim Funk, director of the Community Coalition of Utah, said the "revealing" study was conducted for the ombudsman advisory council, policymakers and the public.

It asks lawmakers to appropriate $150,000 to provide 4.5 new staff members and improve its staff-to-bed ratio, reduce complaint resolution time, visit nursing homes and other facilities more often and upgrade trained volunteer participation.