Head of state association quits 'to preserve unity'

The long-time head of Georgia's most powerful nursing home lobby resigned last week, revealing a rift that had grown among providers. The exec had spoken out in favor of lesser funding from the state and spreading it to more than just a small group of providers.

Jon Howell will leave his post as CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association effective May 1, according to published reports.

The Georgia Health Care Association said in a prepared statement Thursday that Howell offered his resignation “to preserve the unity of the statewide association.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's James Salzer wrote that the resignation, which comes after Howell had been in the position for 7 years, could have political underpinnings. As a backdrop to Howell's surprising resignation, Gov. Nathan Deal earlier proposed a $27 million rate hike that would have benefitted a small number of nursing homes, some of which are owned by a major Deal contributor. The hike was tabled by the Department of Community Health board after board members and Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters raised questions, according to Salzer.

Deal went on to recommended that the $27 million be included in the 2016 fiscal year budget. In February, however, GNHA's Howell recommended that the state lessen the rate increase and grant a more general pay hike for all nursing homes — not just those that had recently changed hands, the reported intended recipients of the $27 million.

“In the end, the General Assembly didn't go along with the rate increase for all nursing homes,” Salzer wrote in the AJC. “And they included the $27 million Deal recommended.”

About $1 million in Deal's total campaign contributions, and about 40% of his political action committee's contributions, have come from the long-term care industry, the AJC reported. The Atlanta media outlet also wrote that that the Georgia Nursing Home Association hired Deal's son-in-law just after the 2010 election.