TALLAHASSEE — Long before Florida entered the deadliest hurricane season in a decade, auditors at the state's Division of Emergency Management sent out a warning: the state was ill-prepared for a major disaster.
A 23-page annual audit completed in December 2016 by the agency's inspector general detailed a lengthy list of deficiencies needed to prepare and respond to a hurricane. Among them:...
10/02/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — The watchdog over electricity rates for most Floridians has been captured by the utility industry and the result is costing consumers, according to a new report released Monday by the independent research organization Integrity Florida.
The report analyzed dozens of decisions made by the Florida Public Service Commission in recent years and concluded that there is an "inordinate focus on what additional money a (utility) company wants, at the expense of attention to what the public interest needs."...
TALLAHASSEE — The former state legislator and Uber driver Gov. Rick Scott named to regulate the state's utilities used his clout to block efforts to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to make it easier for businesses to install solar panels — the same month he partied with a Duke Energy lobbyist — and routinely used his political committee to finance daily meals and expenses.
Ritch Workman, 44, the governor's surprise pick to replace Ronald A. Brisé on the Public Service Commission, has no utility experience, runs a hobby farm and most recently worked as a business developer for Keiser University. A Republican from Melbourne, Workman told a reporter in 2015 that he took a job driving for Uber during the legislative session because he had "idle hands and a big family and needed some extra income."...
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced the abrupt departure of the head of the state Department of Emergency Management, Bryan Koon, and replaced him with Scott's former campaign aide and Republican Party of Florida operative Wes Maul, who has just over a year of emergency operations experience.
Koon told the governor on Sept. 1 he would resign before the end of the hurricane season "to pursue an opportunity in the private sector,'' said McKinley Lewis, Scott's spokesman. The governor asked Koon to stay until Oct. 1 and he agreed. Maul, 29, will be promoted from chief of staff to interim director....
TALLAHASSEE — Florida regulators decided Friday they will abandon the use of software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online, choosing instead to link to the more complete reports available on a federal site.
"To avoid confusion for the nursing home reports our agency links to the federal site, www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare," said Mallory McManus, spokesperson for the Agency for Health Care Administration. "We no longer use the automated redaction tool."...
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott widened his offensive Thursday against the Broward nursing home he blames for the deaths of 10 residents by setting up a tip line for information, but when it comes to access to the inspection reports of all nursing homes, the governor's administration has heavily censored what the public can see.
09/21/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Twelve hours after Irma blasted through South Florida, conditions at Larkin Community Hospital in Hollywood were miserable.
The Broward psychiatric hospital was at full capacity with adults and adolescents who were mentally ill; the air conditioning wasn't working and they couldn't open windows. So what did the director of nursing at Larkin do to seek help? He wrote an email — to a Broward County commissioner, whose office was closed....
09/20/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities find themselves in an unfamiliar place this week — pushing back against Gov. Rick Scott's administration over new rules that require them to purchase generator capacity by Nov. 15 to keep their residents safe and comfortable in a power outage.
With 55 days remaining before the state imposes $1,000-a-day fees, full panic mode has set in on an industry that is more accustomed to dealing with the gentle touch of state regulators and industry-friendly legislators....
TALLAHASSEE —Deadly carbon monoxide fumes have killed 11 people in Florida as Hurricane Irma's death toll rose to 42 on Tuesday, state officials reported.
The numbers are also preliminary, as there are several known deaths still not included on the official list, such as the eight elders who died after their nursing home in Broward lost air conditioning and the nine deaths reported in Monroe County. The Broward deaths have sparked a criminal investigation....
09/16/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — After a week in which the recovery from Hurricane Irma was more deadly for Florida's elderly than the storm, a handful of South Florida legislators drafted bills that would require nursing and retirement homes to maintain generators to cool their facilities during power outages.
The legislation is meant to prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred Wednesday when eight frail, elderly people died in a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home-turned-hothouse after a temporary cooling system failed....
09/14/17 State Roundup
In the aftermath of 2005's destructive Hurricane Wilma, Florida lawmakers approved laws to protect motorists at risk of getting stranded on the interstate, and residents of new highrises who can't climb stairs.
Proposed at the same time: a bill that would have required some nursing homes to have generators to protect frail elders from the ravages of heat and dehydration.
That bill died....
09/14/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — With two new tropical depressions forming in the Atlantic and Gov. Rick Scott worried about another hurricane, Florida water managers worked on all fronts Thursday to lower water levels in Lake Okeechobee and surrounding canals to avoid the possibility of more flooding.
On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would "release as much water as practical" through the spillway at Port Mayaca Lock and Dam on the east side of the lake starting Friday, and begin releases from the lake to the Caloosahatchee Estuary "as soon as capacity exists downstream."...
09/13/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Homeowners, renters and business owners in 37 Florida counties may now apply for federal disaster assistance for uninsured and under-insured damages and losses resulting from Hurricane Irma but, be warned, the process takes time.
Residents of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, DeSoto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter and Volusia counties were designated as of Wednesday to be eligible for federal aid under FEMA's Individual Assistance Program. Storm damage and losses from the hurricane and flooding must have occurred as a result of Hurricane Irma, beginning on Sept. 4....
09/13/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Heavy rainfall over North and Central Florida from Hurricane Irma has swelled 23 rivers and creeks to beyond flood stage Wednesday, threatening homes along their banks and potentially forcing a massive re-routing of drivers along I-75, state officials warned.
According to water level sensors maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey, the biggest threat appeared to be the Santa Fe River, which stretches 75 miles through the heart of the state in northern Florida. The river was recorded at 56,39 feet on Wednesday, according to the USGS gauging station, and is 13 feet above flood stage estimates of the National Weather Service....
09/11/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — The millions of Floridians who are part of the largest evacuation in U.S. history are already itching to go home as Florida mobilizes a post-Irma mass recovery effort of troops, trucks, boats and volunteers from Key West to Jacksonville.
Some evacuees fled hundreds of miles to escape the storm, and those crowds will soon come flooding back to the state.
They're likely to be met with traffic delays, a fuel shortage, debris cleanup and possibly blocked access to their communities — which is why state and local officials have a singular message: Don't try to go home yet....