State elder-care watchdog job search re-opened
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has re-opened its hiring process for a state long-term-care ombudsman, as critics contend the first attempt at filling the post excluded a number of candidates with significant watchdog experience.
The new hire will be the third person in less than three years to lead the volunteer ombudsmen who visit assisted-living facilities and nursing homes in an effort to ensure that residents receive adequate care based on state and federal law.
"I think it's really important that we have a highly qualified individual, so I'm happy that we're redoing the search," said state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Sobel is sponsoring a bill for the 2014 session that would tighten standards for assisted-living facilities, or ALFs, while AARP Florida has repeatedly warned that the state ombudsman's is a crucial role as the state shifts seniors into Medicaid managed-care plans.
Leaders of the Department of Elder Affairs, meanwhile, have been dismayed that coverage of the ombudsman program frequently refers to "turmoil." The coverage has been driven primarily by the controversial departures of the last two state ombudsmen.
The first, Brian Lee, is suing the department and two provider associations for his dismissal, while the second, Jim Crochet, was placed on administrative leave in late July, whereupon he retired and is still being investigated by the department's inspector general.
Department spokeswoman Ashley Marshall said Friday she'd never seen an earlier short-list of 12 names, which has circulated behind the scenes and includes the state's deputy ombudsman for legal affairs.
Some candidates on the list had mid-level state jobs that did not involve overseeing the treatment of seniors.
Among the applicants who were not included on the list were a member of Gov. Rick Scott's ALF work group and the district ombudsman manager for the Duval County area.
Another applicant who did not make the list was Gerald Kasunic, the former long-term-care ombudsman for Washington, D.C.
He also served as a federal liaison for the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs and helped to write legislation, regulations and policies that affected state programs.
Lee, the former ombudsman who is suing the department, criticized the search process.
"Personally, I know of candidates who applied that have lengthy experience and expertise in both long term care and advocacy who are highly qualified that didn't make the short list," said Lee, who now runs the advocacy group Families for Better Care.