ChangingAging has been monitoring news out of Florida and Iowa about efforts to weaken state nursing home watchdogs or Long-Term Care Ombudsman. We’ve received emails from advocates fearful of losing their jobs if they publicly speak-out against actions by lawmakers they say reduce their ability to advocate on behalf of older adults.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is being investigated for “interfering” in the independence of the state’s Ombudsman program by firing its director, Brian Lee. Florida lawmakers are also considering legislation that among other things would eliminate yearly assessments of nursing homes that ombudsmen have been conducting for 25 years.
In Iowa, the state eliminated nearly one-quarter of the local nursing home watchdogs and lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow nursing home executives to review the performance of the state’s Ombudsman program. The legislation was drafted by the state’s top nursing home watchdog, who advocates say is too cozy with the nursing home industry.
A local ombudsman in Iowa who asked not to be identified told ChangingAging:
At this point I’m afraid I’m being targeted for dismissal because I am the one that will raise these concerns and expose the issues that are going on. My co-workers are afraid that if they say anything they will also be targeted. The State Long-Term Care Ombudsman and the Director of Aging are already threatening to lay us off and put the positions out in the Area Agencies on Aging, which could create yet another conflict of interest and layer of control and interference. It’s sad, but I’m only doing what I see as my job and looking out for the welfare of individuals in long term care.
Under the federal Older Americans Act, states are required to have a Long-Term Care Ombudsman program that advocates independently for people living in nursing homes. Ombudsman investigate complaints, mediate disagreements and provide information to families on what to do to get quality care.
Many ChangingAging‘s readers are familiar with state ombudsman and know it can be tense for providers when the ombudsmen comes knocking with a complaint. On the other hand, ombudsmen are often invaluable allies helping mediate disagreements or complaints from family members.
But advocates fear that what’s going on in Iowa and Florida may be a growing national trend. The nursing home industry is increasingly dominated by corporations who give big money to political campaigns, including the campaigns of both Gov. Scott and Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad. In exchange it appears they’re pushing for looser regulations, overlooking violations and the silencing of advocates.
Are any of our readers seeing similar trends in your state? Please let us know.