Florida ombudsman fired after clashing with LTC providers

It seems long-term care operators wield more influence over public opinion than previously considered—at least in the Sunshine State.

The Miami Herald reported on Monday that Brian Lee, director of the Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, was unexpectedly fired by newly elected Gov. Rick Scott “amid longstanding conflict over the group’s role in helping thousands of frail elders,” although no official reasoning for the termination has been released. Lee in fact told the newspaper that the governor’s office did not even contact him; the Department of Elder Affairs handled the dirty work.

During his seven years as ombudsman, Lee produced tension between his program—which was known for being tough on “troubled homes—and senior living providers around the state, according to the Miami Herald report. This tension reached a fever pitch when Lee recently invoked a transparency provision within the federal health reform law and requested records on nursing home directors and financial interests be submitted by the end of February. (This coming after a GAO report released last fall demanding an even greater push toward nursing home transparency.)

There were other issues listed in the newspaper's report, including a meeting in January where members of the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA) “wagged their fingers at him and screamed,” saying Lee’s demands for improvements in retirement homes overstepped his own limited authority. FALA previously sent a letter in December to then Gov.-elect Scott recommending a supervisor within a separate state agency take the ombudsman mantle from Lee.

Lee’s office also posted an open letter to Scott on January 10, days after his inauguration—albeit with a much softer, more welcoming message than the FALA correspondence.

“Please take a few minutes to peruse our Web site, view our video clips highlighting the great work our volunteers do and sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter,” the letter read. “We would also welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your staff at your convenience.” Unfortunately for Lee, it seems as though he was never granted that audience. Not even as a courtesy on the day of his removal.

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