Wrongdoing Found in Florida's Handling of Ombudsman Program; Former Director Sues

A former director of Florida's long-term care ombudsman program who was fired by the governor in February is suing the state for retaliation. In addition federal investigators have determined that the state violated the Older Americans Act (OAA) by interfering with the independent watchdog program.

As ElderLawAnswers previously reported, Brian Lee was director of the Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, a position he had held for seven years until Gov. Rick Scott forced him to resign. After Scott, a Republican, won the governorship last November, the Florida Assisted Living Association, an industry group, sent him a letter recommending that Scott replace Lee, who had a reputation as a staunch advocate for the elderly, with someone one who would presumably be friendlier to their industry.

Immediately before Lee's removal he had requested that the state's 677 nursing homes make public the names of their owners and operators, something that is required under the new federal health care law. Earlier, he had asked owners to demonstrate they had enough food and water set aside for residents in case of an emergency like a hurricane. The ouster alarmed advocacy groups who called for a federal investigation.  

The federal Agency on Aging determined that the state committed a series of violations of the OAA that hindered the program's ability to act independently, including restricting the program's ability to communicate with the news media without advance approval and its ability to lobby on behalf of residents. The report did not find that the state broke the law when it fired Lee, but it found that the firing raised concerns of political interference and had a chilling effect on volunteers. The report ordered the state to come into compliance with federal law.

The report comes after Lee filed a $15,000 lawsuit against the state, seeking damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering. The lawsuit alleges that industry officials clashed with him and sought his resignation. Lee alleges he was forced to resign in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of residents and his attempt to get ownership information.

For more information from the Miami Herald about the report, click here.

To read the report, click here.