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New Ombudsman Left Off Nursing Home Task Force

Mary Daniel washing dishes at memory care facility
Mary Daniel
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida’s new long-term care ombudsman does not serve on a panel appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss reopening nursing homes to visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brian Lee, executive director of the advocacy group Families for Better Care, sent a letter Monday to state Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom asking that Prudom use his influence to have long-term care ombudsman Michael Phillips appointed to the Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities. Lee also sent a letter to DeSantis last week asking that he appoint Phillips to the panel but has not heard back from the governor’s office.

“The state long-term care ombudsman is THE federal and state authorized advocate for Florida’s elderly and disabled adults who live in these congregate care settings,” Lee, a former state ombudsman, wrote to Prudom. “By law, he is charged to represent residents and their concerns.”

Lee said in the letter that the Department of Elder Affairs has legal oversight of the long-term care ombudsman’s office and is charged with ensuring that the ombudsman complies with state and federal laws.

“Part of that compliance includes the ability to provide ‘information to public and private agencies, legislators and others,’“ Lee wrote in the letter. “If the state long-term care ombudsman is being sidelined - unable to participate in these unprecedented, life-preserving discussions pertaining to residents’ health, safety, and welfare - then your immediate intervention is needed with whoever is responsible for gubernatorial appointments to the task force to ensure the inclusion of Mr. Phillips in these discussions.”

Members of the task force include Mary Daniel, who  drew national attention after she went to work as a dishwasher at a memory care facility so she could spend time at the center with her husband, Florida Health Care Association executive sirector Emmett Reed and Gail Matillo, president and CEO of the Florida Senior Living Association.

The panel also includes Prudom, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, and Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees.

Agency for Persons with Disabilities director Barbara Palmer does not serve on the panel. Palmer’s agency has oversight over group homes for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and operates Sunland Center in Marianna and Tacachale Center in Gainesville.

When asked about Palmer’s absence, DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said Friday, “We are confident in the leadership of AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew to help effectively lead this task force and collaborate with all impacted sister agencies, including the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.”

The task force held its first meeting Friday and will meet again at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Visitors have been blocked from entering nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for months to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.