Consumer advocates and industry experts are calling for an investigation into Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s dismissal of Florida Ombudsman Brian Lee claiming that the governor’s “interference” was illegal. Federal and state laws prohibit political interference with and retaliation against the ombudsman. Lee, who had held the post for seven years, previously worked under Republican Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist and was a champion of residents’ rights.
The last straw, Lee believes, was his Jan. 31 letter to nursing homes directing them to submit information on their ownership, as permitted under the new federal health care legislation. It’s a contentious issue in the industry; critics say that’s because facilities are often broken into multiple businesses to make lawsuits against them more difficult. After Lee’s departure, a new letter was sent out to nursing homes telling them to disregard the order.
“This is really a disaster for the residents of Florida nursing homes,” said Kate Ricks, chair of Voices for Quality Care, a Maryland-based nonprofit that supports patients’ rights. “There are problems in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, and there are very few resources to help — but the ombudsman is one. The ombudsman’s only job is to be an advocate for those residents. He has to be independent.”
The federal Administration on Aging sent a letter to Voices for Quality Care confirming there will be a review of Florida’s long-term-care ombudsman program, “including the circumstances surrounding [the] resignation” of the former head of that program, Brian Lee. The Administration on Aging will conduct the review into long-term care ombudsman Brian Lee’s dismissal, and will take "all the steps we can to see that the law was followed," said agency spokeswoman Moya Thompson.
In a letter to Charles Corley, the secretary of the state Department of Elder Affairs, the Administration on Aging warned the job must be filled by someone with credibility among advocates for the elderly and disabled and untainted by conflicts of interest.
Governor Scott, who previously ran the Columbia/HCA hospital chain which was found guilty of Medicaid fraud, also founded Solantic, a chain of urgent care centers in Florida. Scott took money from the nursing home industry in campaign contribution and seems to repaying their generosity now.