Whatever you do, don’t call Brian Lee a shill for trial lawyers. The former head of Florida’s long-term-care ombudsman program is simply trying to improve nursing homes. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

But as Mama used to say, it if walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it probably has waterfowl DNA.

These days, Lee is the executive director of the harmless-sounding Families for Better Care. The organization calls itself an “advocacy group dedicated to creating public awareness of the conditions in our nation’s nursing homes and other long-term care settings and developing effective solutions for improving quality of life and care.”

And who just happens to be underwriting, er, supporting this quality improvement organization? Why, none other than personal injury attorney Jim Wilkes, a.k.a. “Mister Nursing Home Lawsuit.”

Wilkes, as many of our readers are all too aware, has earned a fortune suing nursing homes. Here’s how the Miami Herald describes his modus operandi:

“Wilkes’ model, which has been successfully employed in Florida and eight states where he has offices, is to not only target the owners and management companies — which can often be shell companies that shield the assets of owners and investors — but to target the investors, vendors and contractors, when he can show they have a role in the company’s decision-making. He also seeks large punitive damages.”

So why would the Wilkes & McHugh law firm be a major supporter of Brian Lee’s organization? Do you suppose the fact that Families for Better Care is essentially finding nursing homes to sue might have something to do with it?

Not only does the organization’s website list the top 10 states for civil monetary penalties against nursing homes, it recently released a state-by-state breakdown of where more than $100 million in such fines have been levied. All in the interest of better nursing home care of course.

In a recent story, Lee denied that he is helping find cases the trial lawyers.

“That’s ridiculous,” he’s quoted as saying.

But in the same piece, he later admits that his organization “wouldn’t be able to exist without Wilkes & McHugh.”

Which reminds me of a Groucho Marx quote that goes something like this: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

But that’s a rather lengthy way to describe what’s playing out in Florida. Perhaps these two words are a better fit in Lee’s case:

Quack, quack.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.