For 18 years, Florida’s voice for expanding health-care coverage has been a group known as Florida CHAIN.
But now two of CHAIN’s former employees are launching their own non-profit, called Florida Consumer Health Alliance. That has set up a power struggle among former colleagues.
As the Alliance prepares to host a “Fight Like Health Summit” on Monday in Tampa, CHAIN has sent out an e-mail warning that it has no connection to the new group and doesn’t sanction its activities. An attorney for CHAIN’s board has sent a cease-and-desist letter.
“We’ve been very concerned about the confusion this new organization has created among our partners and supporters,” CHAIN’s Chairwoman Chris Fisher said in a phone interview.
“The e-mail list was obviously copied before they left our employment,” she said.
For several years, CHAIN has worked in a coalition with other organizations under the umbrella name “Florida Health Alliance,” although that coalition never formed a corporation. (A for-profit business in state listings went inactive in 2011). The logo of the new Florida Consumer Health Alliance is strikingly similar to the logo that the coalition Florida Health Alliance has been using.
The two former CHAIN staff members who lead the new Alliance are Scott Darius, executive director, and Lisa Grossman, program director. Grossman referred questions to Darius. Reached by phone, Darius said they had no intention of masquerading as Florida CHAIN.
“We’ve come together as a new coalition,” Darius said. “Our immediate goals are to protect and support the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.”
Given what is happening in Washington and Tallahassee, he said, this is a “pivotal time in health care.”
Darius said he hopes to talk with CHAIN representatives to iron out misunderstandings. They need to work together for the benefit of all Floridians, he said.
“There’s so much at stake,” he said, “there’s no time to waste.”
The new Alliance website, healthyfla.org, says the group “will work to include any and all stakeholders interested in creating healthy communities. This extends beyond health care related organizations and to all those addressing other social determinants like education and food security.”
CHAIN, short for Community Health Action Information Network, lost most of its funding and all of its staff following the election in November, as Health News Florida reported.
CHAIN had been receiving funds from Community Catalyst, a non-profit in Boston, to apply pressure in Florida for Medicaid expansion, part of the Affordable Care Act. But when Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton for the Presidency, the Boston group hit the pause button.
“It’s pretty clear that opponents of the Affordable Care Act will move forward with plans to repeal it,” Catalyst Deputy Director Susan Sherry said at the time. She said repeal “will strip away coverage from 22 million Americans, including 1.7 million living in Florida.”
Given that danger, health-rights advocates need to shift strategy, Sherry said. The decision to end funding for Florida CHAIN doesn’t mean the group hasn’t been doing a good job, she said.
Those who were laid off included CHAIN’s executive director Mark Pafford, former Democratic leader in the Florida House.
At the time, a CHAIN statement said the staff layoff was difficult but prudent in order to preserve the group’s “ability to operated in a limited role until such time that we have a better understanding of the future of health care in Florida and the United States.”
In its e-mail on Thursday, CHAIN said it is proud of its reputation as the “premier source of health care advocacy in Florida,” and therefore wanted to explain that the new group is not affiliated with CHAIN.
“The former employees have opened their own health care advocacy organization without our knowledge and have deceivingly named it the Florida Consumer Health Alliance,” the email says.
“They are contacting our partners and donors, promoting the new organization.
“The former employees had agreed to certain of our policies prohibiting these types of activities as a condition of their employment and they have now violated that agreement by their actions both before and after their separation from Florida CHAIN.
“The former employees are using our subscriber and sponsor list, which they procured without our authorization, to conduct their activities. We had no alternative but to turn to our legal counsel to issue a warning letter to cease and desist from all further professional activities.
“Most importantly, this is a critical time for health care advocacy both in Florida and throughout our country. It is extremely troubling to us that the advocacy that Florida CHAIN has conducted for almost 20 years, health care access and affordability, is now sidetracked by these unprofessional behaviors.
“We should be endeavoring to work in harmony with like-minded organizations, rather than wasting time defending right against wrong among our own. There is plenty of opportunity to accomplish good things in an honest fashion without deceiving our partners.
“We at Florida CHAIN chose to inform you, our valued supporters and partners, that we are continuing to provide exceptional service to the Florida health care advocacy community and that we are not associated with the Florida Consumer Health Alliance, and that their activities are not authorized or sanctioned by Florida CHAIN in anyway. Thank you.”