Last month the federal government issued criticism of Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs and its oversight of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. The Long Term Care Ombudsman is essentially a watchdog program meant to protect residents from nursing home abuse and assisted living facility neglect. The federal Administration on Aging cited numerous problems and alleged illegal interference on the part of the Department of Elder Affairs. The report raises questions about the way in which the Department of Elder Affairs chooses and dismisses volunteers, how it limits the ombudsmans program’s communication with the media, and how it prevents the program from lobbying on behalf of nursing home residents.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Senate committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs has begun to investigate these accusations. A hearing was convened earlier this week to question staff. This hearing may be the first of many and may lead to legislation to separate the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program from the Department of Elder Affairs.
Some legislators on both sides of the aisle are stepping up to the plate to advocate for the elderly. For example, State Senator Nan Rich (D) and State Senator Ronda Storms (R) have spoken about the lack of independence of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. Their efforts should be applauded.
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As previously discussed in this blog, the ex-chief ombudsman Brian Lee was fired after complaints from nursing homes that he was being too aggressive. After speaking out against his dismissal, Lynn Dos Santos, the volunteer chairwoman of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Council, was also fired. The current chief Long Term Care Ombudsman, Jim Crochet, was recommended by a trade group dominated by nursing home and assisted living facility owners.
As a Florida nursing home abuse attorney , I agree with Brian Lee when he says this is, “a step in the right direction.” Making the ombudsman program independent of the Department of Elder Affairs will take some of the politics out of the system, making it easier for ombudsmen to protect residents, rather than turning a blind eye to nursing home abuse.