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NEWS

The squeaky wheel gets the boot

Volunteer ombudsman says he was fired for being too outspoken

“I said ‘I understand that Alberta Granger, who was the consultant of this Munne Center that has been closed, was hired to train the managers of this program. Mr. Crochet, is that right?’” Hearne recalls. “He looked at me, and if looks could kill, I’d be a corpse. I’d be in a casket right now. He said yes, but only so the ombudsmen could get an administrator’s view of an assisted-living facility.”

A few weeks later, he got the letter saying he was being let go.

Erica Wilson, communication and recruitment administrator for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, would not specify exactly why Hearne was let go. By way of explanation, she sent a copy of the agreement that ombudsman volunteers must sign before participation in the program, including a code of ethics and a conflict of interest statement; she said that volunteers who are not doing a satisfactory job may be reassigned or “de-designated,” though that would be a “last resort.”

“The State Ombudsman has the authority to designate volunteers to represent and carry out the duties of the office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program,” she wrote in an email. “This authority would, conversely, include the State Ombudsman’s authority to de-designate individuals to represent the office.”

Hearne says he’s concerned that the volunteer ranks are being decimated, as dedicated volunteers are either being pushed out or are resigning in frustration. In Orlando Weekly’s last story about the ombudsman program (see “Neutering the Watchdogs,” Nov. 10), we reported that the Administration on Aging counted 258 active volunteers among the ombudsman’s ranks, down from a high of “nearly 400” the office reported to have in its 2009-2010 annual report; Wilson took issue with both of those numbers and said that there are 307 active volunteer ombudsmen and that the program “value[s] our volunteers and the important role they play in advocating for the health, safety, welfare and rights of long-term care facility residents.”

But some volunteers say they’re not feeling the love. “You can only intimidate and interfere with this program so long and you will begin to lose your most trained and seasoned ombudsmen, which I believe has already begun,” reads a resignation letter from former Orlando-area volunteer Sunny Pratt, who resigned this fall. “We had at one time a very smooth running program, had support from your position down to the newest ombudsman, but now there is a disconnect. In my unsolicited opinion, the Ombudsman Program is doomed unless you step up to the plate and demand changes, put teeth in the program and defend what we need most, and that is someone who cares about what is happening and willing to demand changes.”

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