October 02, 2017

Florida Republicans create distance with Trump on Puerto Rico

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

While President Donald Trump spent the weekend attacking the mayor of San Juan and blasting negative coverage of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, Florida state Rep. Bob Cortes was worried about his daughter in San Juan’s western suburbs.

Cortes’ daughter, Leslie, and her 2-year-old son, Jeremy, had their roof torn off during Hurricane Maria, and two feet of water rushed into their house in Dorado.

“I was terrified they were going to lose their lives,” Cortes said, as his voice trembled.

The second-term Republican lawmaker from Altamonte Springs spent days trying to reach family members in Puerto Rico and is asking anyone he can for help.

They might not be directly criticizing Trump. But Florida Republicans are taking a noticeably different tack from the leader of their party when it comes to Puerto Rico, an issue that affects some of them, like Cortes, personally — and many of them politically.
 
Instead of adopting the president’s finger-pointing rhetoric, the federal and state GOP lawmakers are highlighting the need for action in Puerto Rico. Some 1 million Puerto Ricans call Florida home.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged Trump to let the military lead logistical Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that Florida will open relief centers Tuesday for Puerto Ricans arriving in Miami and Orlando. He also asked schools to give in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane.

How many might come is unknown. “A lot,” Scott guessed.

Rubio has said this isn’t the time to talk hurricane-relief politics, but a day before Trump was scheduled to land in San Juan, the senator acknowledged the initial response from the administration could have been swifter.

“In hindsight, we all wish we could get those three or four days back,” Rubio told reporters in Miami on Monday after they asked if Washington could have done more — and more quickly — to aid the island. “I want us to focus 100 percent on what we need to do to improve the recovery effort. And we have plenty of time in the future to sit there and point to the mistakes that were made.... But right now every minute we spend doing that sort of thing is a minute that isn’t being spent trying to improve reconstruction and deal with it.”

State lawmakers said that an influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans won’t go unnoticed.

“Florida’s the closest one to Puerto Rico, and it’s ground zero for relief efforts,” said Cortes, who represents a portion of Orange and Seminole Counties. “We’re going to be shipping most of the things they need to get back on their feet.”

Cortes said he expects at least 100,000 Puerto Ricans to relocate to Florida after the storm, and many of them will settle in greater Orlando. Puerto Ricans already tend to vote Democratic, potentially altering the political dynamics of America’s largest swing state ahead of the 2018 elections.

“It can be a game-changer politically,” said state Rep. Amy Mercado, a Puerto Rican Democrat from Orlando. “The speed of what’s occurring, that’s the million-dollar question. How fast, how much and how long?”

A 100,000-vote swing in favor of Democrats would have given Charlie Crist the governorship in 2014 over Scott and would have eaten up most of Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But the math isn’t that simple. Not all Puerto Ricans will vote for Democrats, and many will choose not to vote at all. Cortes argued that Puerto Ricans coming directly from the island are more likely to vote Republican than second-or third-generation Puerto Ricans.

“Those that have been coming usually tend to be more ideologically with the Republican Party because they are leaving a place that had fiscal issues,” Cortes said, adding that both parties need to do a better job of reaching out to Puerto Ricans in Florida.

Read more here.

Rick Scott for HHS secretary? The governor laughs.

@PatriciaMazzei

Now that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned, could President Donald Trump be considering Florida Gov. Rick Scott for the high-profile gig?

Scott laughed off the suggestion Monday, at a Latin America summit he organized in Miami.

"I have a really good job right now," he told reporters. "Ii have about 365 days -- 465 days, is that right? -- yeah, 465 days left in this job.

"My job is to do what I came here to do with the summit, to try to create a state where everybody can get a good job, people can get a good education, and people are safe. We're in a 46-year low on our crime rate. We've added over 1.4 million jobs. That's what I do every day."

Could he be Florida's next U.S. senator, if he challenges Democrat Bill Nelson?

"That's 2018," Scott said. "We'll worry about stuff like that in 2018."

Rubio on federal response to Puerto Rico: 'In hindsight, we all wish we could get those 3 or 4 days back'

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Republicans don't want to criticize President Donald Trump's administration for its slow-moving response to assist Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

But they're also not going out of their way to praise it.

"In hindsight, we all wish we could get those three or four days back," U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters in Miami on Monday after they asked if Washington could have done more -- and more quickly -- to aid the island. "The good news is, now that Lt. Gen. [Jeffrey] Buchanan is on the ground, it appears that every single day that goes by, they have more control and authority over the reestablishment of logistics."

Delicate politics are at play: Republicans expect perhaps thousands of Puerto Ricans to move to states like Florida in the storm's aftermath. Puerto Ricans already tend to vote Democratic. And now some of them are upset at Trump's Twitter jabs at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz -- and at Puerto Rican workers -- after Maria.

Will they remember once they move here and go to the polls on Election Day?

"I haven't thought about the political dynamic of it, because we're still in the middle of a response to a hurricane," Rubio said. "So, in the short-term, all I've said is, I want us to focus 100 percent on what we need to do to improve the recovery effort. And anything that isn't about that is taking away [from that]. And we have plenty of time in the future to sit there and point to the mistakes that were made, and what could be done better, and what we would do differently, but right now every minute we spend sort of doing that sort of thing is a minute that isn't being spent trying to improve reconstruction and deal with it." 

Trump plans to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, estimated in an interview that aired Sunday on Miami's local Univision affiliate that as many as half a million Puerto Ricans could move to the mainland in the coming months.

Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican who like Rubio traveled to Puerto Rico last week to view the hurricane's devastation firsthand, announced Monday he will open three relief centers in Miami and Orlando to help new Puerto Rican arrivals. 

Scott declined to say whether the White House could have acted with more urgency.

"I'm not here to assign blame," he said. "I know that we've worked hard to make sure we solve our problems in our state, and I know Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló is doing [the same] over there in Puerto Rico. My experience by being over there is, I saw people working their tail off."

Scott wouldn't speculate on whether any new Florida voters from Puerto Rico could take out their frustration against him if he runs as U.S. Senate next year.

"I've been governor now for almost seven years," Scott said. "I reach out to people and talk to people and try to solve problems.... I know that people are going to come here from Puerto Rico are going to be hardworking. They're going to be part of our society, and my job as governor is to provide as many resources as I can, and give them the same opportunity that every other Floridian has."

Only Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent, outspoken Trump critic who is retiring next year, openly lamented the federal government's handling of Puerto Rico, calling it "a terrible response to a horrible tragedy."

She made a point, however, to thank Rubio and Scott for their efforts -- putting them on a separate plane from the GOP president.

September 23, 2017

AHCA halts heavy redactions on nursing home reports -- but creates another transparency hurdle

Nursing home redactionsFlorida 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.”

The decision came a day after the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reported that the redaction software the agency started using last year was removing key words, dates and descriptions from the inspection reports posted online while the same reports posted on the federal website did not contain the heavy redactions.

State law requires the agency to post the inspection reports on its website to aid the public in monitoring conditions at the 683 nursing homes and more than 3,100 assisted living facilities in the state. But by ending one transparency problem, the agency created another.

The redaction software was used retroactively to block words from inspection reports that went back seven years. Before last year, these documents were available to the public without the heavy redaction. Rather than restoring the documents to that format, the state on Friday linked to the federal documents, which go back only three years, resulting in less access for families, advocates and consumers who want to analyze a nursing home's track record. Story here. 

September 21, 2017

When elders are in peril, whom do you call — 911 or Rick Scott’s cell?

Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center

@MaryEllenKlas @MarbinMiller @DChangMiami

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.

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.

Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services is the sister operation to the adjacent Hollywood Hills rehab center, where eight residents died on Sept. 13 when power was lost to an air conditioning system and a set of portable air coolers malfunctioned. A ninth resident died Tuesday.

Ryan had forwarded the email to Justin Senior, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, and its release Tuesday night was intended to underscore the inadequacy of the nursing home’s calls for help. But beyond highlighting the nursing home’s feckless response, the email also raises doubts about the state’s strategy for helping elder-care operators brace for a looming catastrophe.

During a conference call with nursing home and ALF representatives in the run-up to the storm, Gov. Scott did something that might seem unusual for the leader of the nation’s third-largest state.

Scott, who wedged in the conference call amid a flurry of interviews with cable news anchors, gave out a private cell phone number to the caregivers. He said give us a call if you have a problem.

Many did just that, including the Hollywood Hills nursing home. The rehab center made multiple calls to the cell phone and to a separate state information hotline set up to deal with storm-related emergencies. In the calls, the Hollywood nursing home reported the electrical breakdown and indicated the situation was becoming increasingly urgent.

Not only did those calls fail to yield any substantive help, but they have resulted in sharp criticism from the governor’s office, which said the nursing home never reported that lives were in jeopardy. It also questioned why the staff didn’t take the sick and dying residents to Memorial Regional Hospital, which is next door.

Late Wednesday, the state added to the barrage of condemnations, saying the nursing home had fudged its medical records after residents had been evacuated. One resident was reported to be breathing without difficulty — after already having died.

The deaths at Hollywood Hills have raised questions about the strategy of routing emergency pleas through the governor’s office as well as the thought process behind phoning Tallahassee or emailing a county commissioner rather than calling 911 when conditions are careening from uncomfortable to stifling to deadly. More here. 

September 20, 2017

Nursing homes, accustomed to Rick Scott admin's soft touch, scramble to meet hard deadline

Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center@MaryEllenKlas

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 56 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 than it is with facing new rules.

The board of directors of LeadingAge, an industry association that represents 350 non-profit senior homes, on Monday voted to ask the governor’s office to delay the mandate as impractical.

Another group, the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 550 for-profit nursing homes, announced it was convening a “summit” on Friday to voice its concerns about the timing, the logistics and the cost of the new rule. And the national board of Florida Argentum, which represents assisted living and memory care facilities, said Tuesday it is hoping for more time to pay for the new rules in Florida — which it estimates carry price tags of $75,000 to $200,000 per home.

“Our members almost uniformly agree with the spirit of what the governor is trying to accomplish — the idea of keeping residents safe in an emergency — but our members have concerns about the practical implications of the rule,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, which is also hosting the summit.

Like others in the senior care industry, these groups say they support the idea, but they also want some flexibility in the 60-day deadline as they seek contractors, buy generators, hire engineers, retrofit buildings and find financing.

“So many contractors and engineers are involved with the recovery process statewide, it’s going to be very difficult to comply,” said Susan Anderson, vice president of policy for the ALF association, Florida Argentum.

It’s an about-face for most of the senior care industry and for the governor. Since Scott took office in 2011, he has significantly rolled back oversight of the powerful industry that represents more than 73,000 seniors in 683 certified nursing homes, and tens of thousands of others in 3,109 assisted living facilities and memory care centers across the state. Story here. 

September 18, 2017

Bill Nelson criticizes Rick Scott over nursing home deaths

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson decried the lax regulatory standards for backup generators in Florida nursing homes after the deaths of eight elderly people at a Broward County facility during a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, and his criticism included a jab at his likely 2018 senate opponent: Gov. Rick Scott

"Eight people died in a nursing home right across the street from a major hospital in Hollywood, Florida," Nelson said. "Eight frail, elderly (people) from ages 70 to 99. Eight needless deaths." 

Nelson said that "all the phone calls that had been made that were not answered both to the government as well as to the power company as reported" will "come out in the criminal investigation." 

He was referencing a report by CBS Miami that an official from the nursing home called a cellphone provided by Scott 36 hours before the first death. The nursing home also called Florida Power and Light, though the utility did not immediately restore power to the building. 

"We don’t know all the facts, it will come out in the criminal investigation, but it is inexcusable that eight frail elderly people would die," Nelson said.

Hurricane Irma was already turning into a political spectacle for Nelson and Scott, as President Donald Trump encouraged Scott to run against Nelson while viewing storm damage in the Naples area on Thursday.

"I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate," Trump said. Scott wasn't present during Trump's remarks. 

Nelson did not mention Scott by name during his floor speech, where he also jabbed his likely opponent over a reluctance to attribute powerful hurricanes like Irma to climate change. 

“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” Scott said last week. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”

Nelson disagreed with Scott, who generally avoids using the term climate change. 

"Hurricane Irma is just another reminder that we are going to confront huge natural occurrences and maybe just maybe people will relate that there is something to the fact that the earth is getting hotter," Nelson said, adding that warmer oceans allow hurricanes to gain strength. 

Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio were absent for votes in Washington last week after Irma. 

September 15, 2017

Scott picks Ritch Workman over Ron Brisé for PSC post

BrisePageGov. Rick Scott rejected the re-appointment of Ron Brisé, a former Democratic legislator from North Miami, to a third term on the state’s powerful Public Service Commission Friday, replacing him with a former lawmaker from Melbourne.

Scott named David “Ritch” Workman, 44, a former state legislator who how serves as the director of business development at Keiser University, to the utility board, replacing Brisé, a former telecommunications consultant.

The appointment was one of three made by Scott to the five-member utility board that oversees regulation of the state’s electric, water and sewer industries.

Workman has worked as an Uber driver, served in the Florida Army National Guard, and received his bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University. He has no utility industry experience. His term will expire Jan. 1, 2022.

Brisé, 44, had been a telecommunications consultant before he was first appointed to the Public Service Commission in 2010 by former Gov. Charlie Crist. He had been reappointed to the four-year term by Scott and was seeking a third term. When he represented North Miami, Brisé had been an outspoken critic of Florida Power & Light’s high voltage transmission lines and sought to give the community more input in the process.

Scott reappointed Art Graham, 53, of Jacksonville Beach, who was also first appointed by Crist in 2010. He has previously served as a city councilman for the City of Jacksonville Beach. His term also ends Jan. 1, 2022.

Scott also appointed Gary Clark, 49, of Chipley, to the shortest term on the commission. Clark, the deputy secretary of Land and Recreation at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will fill the seat vacated by Jimmy Patronis. The former Panama City legislator left the commission when Scott named him to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Clark received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix. His term began Friday and will extend through Jan. 1, 2019.

 

September 14, 2017

Scott surveys damage in Keys as death toll rises

Rick scott(2)
@PatriciaMazzei

KEY WEST -- Gov. Rick Scott toured the Florida Keys on Wednesday as the extent of the devastation from Hurricane Irma became clearer, with the death toll in the island chain rising to at least eight since Irma hit.

The governor surveyed the damage for the first time on foot, flying into Marathon via helicopter and then stopping at hard-hit Big Pine and Cudjoe Keys before departing from Key West.

None of the dead have been found by search-and-rescue teams, which have been going door-to-door. Monroe County authorities say six deaths have been caused by natural causes and two others directly by the Category 4 storm. Another 40 have been injured, 30 of them in Key West.

Keys officials told the governor the biggest needs are help in getting food, fuel and communications.

In Marathon, Scott dropped in at the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, where Manager Marty Senterfitt warned him that the county will likely need the federal disaster declaration extended once it expires in 30 days. 

“Let me please emphasize the incredible job you and the president have done,” Senterfitt said. “I feel almost embarrassed to be asking for more.”

More here.

Photo credit: Alan Diaz, Associated Press

September 11, 2017

Miami politicians take to the skies to view Irma damage

@alextdaugherty 

A gaggle of Miami politicians are getting an up-close-and-personal view of Hurricane Irma's destruction in Key West. 

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson along with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, state Sen. Anitere Flores and Miami-Dade County commissioner José Pepe Díaz were all aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane bound for Key West with personnel dispatched to help with recover operations. 

The flight followed a Miami press conference with Curbelo, Flores Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Gov. Rick Scott

"We're working with FEMA, I can tell you the White House has been outstanding," Scott said. "I talked to President Trump three times yesterday, I talked to administrator Brock Long of FEMA multiple times yesterday. The White House and everybody at the federal level is showing up and my belief is they are going to show up and do everything they can." 

"Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma." 

"The Florida Keys is going to need a lot of help and we're blessed to have a wonderful governor and a very effective adminstrator at FEMA who is well aware of what the sitaution on the ground is starting to look like," Curbelo said. "We keep getting this question of how much this is going to cost and we don't have an exact estimate. But I can guarantee you this, it's going to cost billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to help the Florida Keys, Florida's Southwest Coast and obviously some of our residents here in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to recover."  

Curbelo said he talked to Long, who relayed to him that FEMA has enough money to get through September. 

"What I would tell all my colleagues is...we cannot fund an agency like FEMA month to month," Curbelo said, adding that he plans to speak with Speaker Paul Ryan about a "robust" funding plan for FEMA.