Those who do not know Eric Carlson well might view him as an accomplished (and stoic) national expert in long-term care issues. He is certainly that. But dig beneath the surface and you will also find a warm, funny, and supportive man who I am proud to call a friend for over 20 years and, although he wouldn’t think of himself in this way, a mentor of mine.
Eric is the Director of Long-Term Services and Supports Advocacy at Justice in Aging (formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, or NSCLC) in their Los Angeles, California, office. From his work at Justice in Aging since 2001, and his work as Director of Nursing Home Advocacy at Bet Tzedek in Los Angeles prior to that, Eric has established himself as one of the top — if not the top — expert on long-term care advocacy. He literally writes the book — he has been the author of Long-Term Care Advocacy (LexisNexis) since 1999.
Through direct service to clients, technical assistance to other advocates and attorneys, co-counseling litigation on consumers’ behalf, engaging in policy work and extensive writing (both legal and lay), his accomplishments are many. Among other things, he is author of the widely-used 25 Common Nursing Home Problems & How to Resolve Them (an updated and expanded version of 20 Common Nursing Home Problems — and How to Resolve Them). He has participated in litigation in Kentucky to stop the state from terminating benefits for nursing home residents. He worked with local long-term care ombuds in Mississippi and was successful in getting the state to implement a standard appeal process for nursing facility discharges and transfers. He currently is co-counsel on Olmstead litigation against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has submitted amicus briefs in multiple federal circuits to debunk nursing facilities’ claims of immunity for COVID-related deaths and injuries.
During the pandemic, he was selected to participate on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes and was the sole member of the commission to oppose the final recommendations on the basis they did not go far enough to hold facilities accountable.
Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging, says Eric is a “great guy to know and work with” and “is a true professional — an expert among experts who is incredibly humble and exceptionally focused on what’s best for our clients. He’s also a helluva quote — he’s got a special ability to whittle things down to the essence. No BS.”
Toby Edelman, Senior Policy Attorney (and my co-worker) at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, considers Eric a long-term friend and colleague. She says, “Eric has an ability to explain things in ways that make sense to people.” He “is a great trainer. He has an exceptional way of connecting with people that he’s talking to — with humor, tremendous intelligence, and grace.”
I have had the pleasure of seeing Eric present in person many times — his analysis is so clear and common sense that one is left with little choice but to agree with whatever he is saying. He brings the audience along with him, nodding at each “well of course that’s what would happen” or “of course that is what you’d do or think.” I am grateful that Eric has never tried to sell me anything expensive.
Back when in-person conferences were more of a thing, I would occasionally be mistaken for Eric (we have similar hairstyles, although he is a bit taller than me). Even though people would be disappointed when I turned out not to be him, this would make me appear temporarily smarter and more accomplished, and almost always would accrue to my benefit anyway (“I not only look like him — I know him!”). I would later enjoy teasing him when I overheard people earnestly refer to him as “The Great” Eric Carlson, said with true appreciation and reverence, without sarcasm.
But enough of the man’s laurels. I’d like you to know Eric as I do.
Eric grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in English. He worked at a homeless shelter in Detroit as a Jesuit Volunteer, and also worked as a Jesuit Volunteer at Inner City Law Center during a two-year gap in law school before graduating from the University of California, Berkeley.
Eric is married to Graciela Martinez, an attorney at the Public Defender’s office in Los Angeles and one of the friendliest lawyers I have ever met. I first met his son Diego when he was a wonderfully energetic toddler, crawling all over his dad in a Salvadoran restaurant in Los Angeles. Diego was in a phase of calling his dad by his first name (“Ewic”) which was beyond charming as he threw rice on the floor and all over the table. That kid is now attending Stanford Law. Eric and Graciela also have a daughter, Jimena, who is currently in sixth grade.
I first met Eric when he was at Bet Tzedek and later shared office space with him for several years in a high-rise on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was during this time that I gradually learned that Eric has the manners and humility of a Midwesterner but, when his guard is down, the sarcastic wit of a New Englander. He has an eye roll with more power than my 13-year-old and an uproarious laugh that you can’t help but join in with.
Long before Ted Lasso, Eric was a kind-hearted soccer coach for his kids, coaching American Youth Soccer Organization for about a dozen years. I enjoyed hearing him talk about strategy as if he were Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary coach of Manchester United.
He bikes. A lot. He describes going on biking trips through Los Angeles, including up and down the mountains of Griffith Park that would tire me if I drove them. He loves taking outdoor trips, including most recently a Boundary Waters wilderness canoe trip with Diego.
He is also the treasurer at Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, a small progressive congregation. Since our relationship is bicoastal, I haven’t had the chance to see him in person as much lately, but he tells me that during the pandemic he has cooked more, played some piano, and read more (generally non-fiction).
When presenting Eric with the Legal Justice Award from Consumer Voice in 2014, my colleague Toby declared that “Eric is brilliant, generous with his time and knowledge, and fun to be with.” She still thinks so. And so do I.