Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

April 19, 2015

Increased prison oversight could ramp up scrutiny of private prison services

Looming in the background in the legislative debate over prison reform is a question that could come into new focus: How productive was the move to privatize prisons and inmate health care and how much farther should it go?

Florida legislative leaders last week tentatively agreed to the creation of a joint legislative oversight board with the power to investigate and monitor the performance of Florida’s troubled Department of Corrections. It’s goal is to secure the safety of inmates in the face of mounting reports of suspicious inmate deaths, excessive use of force and allegations of cover-ups at the agency that houses more than 101,000 prisoners, said sponsors of the measure, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

But the legislative panel could also open the door to an evaluation of the recent shift in priorities that has led the state to open seven private prisons, contract out services for 21 inmate work camps, and shift mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment and inmate health care to private vendors.

“We are responsible for supervising every single person who is incarcerated in the State of Florida,’’ said Trujillo, sponsor of the House bill. “Our intention isn’t to privatize more facilities,” said Trujillo. “It is to look at inmate safety and some of the organizational problems that have led to the lack of inmate safety.”

More here

Dinner or medicine? The choices for those in Florida's health insurance gap

Doc 03 One PAB (2)@DChangMiami

As Florida lawmakers far away in the state capital struggle to break their stalemate over Medicaid expansion, Cynthia Louis sees the bus bench advertising “Obamacare” near her Miami home as a reminder of a broken promise: that the Affordable Care Act would help her get the medical care she needs to return to work.

Louis, 57, has been unemployed since fall of 2013. Before then, the mother of three worked for Burger King for nearly 25 years, preparing and serving breakfast and lunch to Miami customers.

“Work is fun if you like the job,’’ Louis said, recalling years-long friendships with co-workers and customers. “And my job, I loved it.”

When she fell ill at the store on Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 91st Street in Miami Shores, vomiting and unable to stand from the pain in her legs, Louis could not return to work, losing her job — and her best chance at getting health insurance.

Since then, Louis has learned what it’s like to depend on the healthcare safety net in Miami-Dade County, the one that’s supposed to catch residents before they hit bottom.

Although at times in the past she had been covered by private insurance through her employer, she no longer had that option. And she discovered that while more than 1.5 million Floridians now have insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she falls into a category of healthcare have-nots called the coverage gap.

Too poor to qualify for financial aid to make insurance more affordable under the health law commonly known as Obamacare, Louis and some 850,000 Florida residents were supposed to have been covered under Medicaid — if the state had chosen to expand the program as provided under the ACA.

But legislators in Florida, like those in 21 other states, have chosen to keep Medicaid open only to strict categories: poor children, and adults who are disabled, pregnant or parents with dependents earning no more than $5,500 a year for a household of two.

More here.

Also, check out this map of low-cost providers serving the uninsured in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe. 

Photo: Dr. Annelys Hernandez, left, checks out Cynthia Louis in Florida International University’s Mobile Health Center. PETER ANDREW BOSCH/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

AP: N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be first gov to visit Cuba

From the Associated Press:

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to Havana, the first American governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. Whether his trade mission generates anything more than headlines, however, remains to be seen.

The formal state visit on Monday and Tuesday is meant to foster greater ties between New York and Cuba. Cuomo will be joined by lawmakers and a group of business leaders for what he has called "a tremendous stepping stone" that will "help open the door to a new market for New York businesses." 

More here.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio emerge as 'frenemies' in New Hampshire

Rubio manchester

@PatriciaMazzei

NASHUA, N.H. -- That Jeb Bush’s surprise decision in December to explore a 2016 Republican presidential run would complicate the ambitions of his erstwhile Florida protégé Marco Rubio seemed a given.

That Rubio’s now-declared candidacy might also make things a little problematic on a personal level for Bush didn’t become clear until this weekend in New Hampshire.

Mentor and mentee missed each other as they both held meet-and-greet gatherings with voters in Manchester and spoke to GOP activists in Nashua. What they couldn’t avoid were questions at every stop from the news media probing their relationship.

More here.

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/Associated Press

DOC scrubs testimony from prison whistle-blower for allegedly violating HIPAA

Doug GlissonThe Department of Corrections concluded that the name of an inmate should be erased from the video testimony of an whistle-blower at a Senate committee because of federal HIPAA privacy laws, an agency spokesman told the Herald/Times.

Doug Glisson, an inspector with the DOC’s Office of Inspector General, testified under oath at the March 10 meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that the agency covered up potentially negligent medical care, criminal activity and sabotaged investigations to protect high ranking officials within the organization.

Among the examples Glisson cited was the case of inmate Quintin Foust, whose death was listed as “suspicious” by the medical examiner. Glisson said Foust was “undergoing medical care” at Jefferson Correctional Institution but did not provide any details about his medical condition or ailments. He said Foust “started having seizures” and “wound up dying.”  

Glisson said he and his investigator believed that a criminal investigation should have been conducted of Foust’s death but was told by “upper management at the Office of Inspector General to close that criminal case” because of a “conversation he had had with the state attorney’s office and that we would run that case administratively.” 

Foust's cause of death is now listed as "natural" on the DOC web site. 

Some time after the Senate hearing, DOC concluded that Glisson’s testimony violated the federal HIPAA privacy rule, which protects individuals from disclosure of identifiable health information, said McKinley Lewis, DOC spokesman.  

Lewis then provided the time codes from the video to The Florida Channel and asked them to scrub the name references from the audio. 

"The department notified The Florida Channel that some of the information released violated federal HIPAA law,’’ Lewis said. “We have a responsibility to protect the personal health information of all inmates and staff.” 

Continue reading "DOC scrubs testimony from prison whistle-blower for allegedly violating HIPAA" »

April 18, 2015

The Onion riffs on Marco Rubio

From The Onion satirical website:

Following similar announcements by Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has become the third GOP candidate to declare his bid in the 2016 presidential race. The Onion breaks down what you should know about Rubio:

  • Campaign Slogan: “Laying the groundwork for 2020”
  • Campaign Strategy: Leverage Latino voter base, large-scale grassroots movement, death of Jeb Bush
  • Vision: Ready for America to reclaim strong conservative values held by 38 percent of its populace
  • Birthplace: Closed-door conservative think tank strategy session in 2010

More here.

Floridians can't believe Jeb Bush is being called moderate, according to Jeb Bush

@PatriciaMazzei

NASHUA, N.H. -- Florida remembers Jeb Bush as governor. And Bush knows it.

So the fact that he now has to defend his Tallahassee record across the country as a likely 2016 presidential candidate is amusing, he told Republican activists gathered Friday in New Hampshire. 

"The liberals in Florida are angry that people don't see me as a conservative outside of Florida," Bush said. He rattled off a list of his achievements -- cutting taxes, reducing the size of the workforce, boosting financial reserves -- and pushed back when a woman in the audience said the GOP isn't looking for someone who is "Republican in name only."

Bush asked her to "absorb" his record. "It's an I'm-not-kidding conservative one," he said.

Professor Marco Rubio makes New Hampshire appearance

IMG_4467

@PatriciaMazzei

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Professor Marco Rubio knows his way in front of a classroom full of college students.

So when Presidential Candidate Rubio made his way Friday to Manchester Community College in New Hampshire, he was ready to make quips and ask questions of students who, in at least some cases, had no idea who he was.

"I actually feel right at home," said Rubio, who teaches politics at Florida International University in Miami.

He gave a snippet of his fledgling stump speech, advocating for a higher-education system more flexible for working parents and more attention to vocational and technical education. Universities should tell students in advance how much they can expect to make once they graduate, he added, so graduates don't face student-debt sticker shock.

"That's something I'm very sensitive to, because I actually owed over $100,000 after I finished my education," Rubio said. "And I never would have paid it off had it not been for a book I wrote -- which you can get in paperback," he joked.

The students needed a little prodding to get going with questions. One of them, in wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt, apologized for his casual attire. Rubio, wearing a suit, didn't miss a beat: "I want to apologize for how I'm dressed!"

On his way out the door, he thanked history professor Ben Hampton for letting him interrupt his class. Hampton, as it turns out, hails from Fort Lauderdale and knows Spanish.

"Hasta luego, señor," Hampton said.

"Muchas gracias, profesor," Rubio responded.

DOC now reassigns prison whistle-blowers, targets them for investigation, has audio scrubbed


Doug GlissonOne month after the Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the Senate Appropriations Committee that she had asked the governor's chief investigator to look into the claims the whistle-blowers that DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley impeded their investigations into suspicious inmate deaths,  three of the officers have not been interviewed by anyone looking into the matter, according to the attorney for the three.

Instead, the inspectors, who risked their careers by going public, now face intense scrutiny. 

The Miami Herald has learned that two of the DOC inspectors who testified last month before state lawmakers — Doug Glisson and John Ulm — have been stripped of their investigative posts and slapped with a pile of internal affairs complaints.

A third inspector, David Clark, who did not testify but publicly alleged Beasley tried to sabotage cases, has also been transferred, DOC officials confirmed Thursday. They are among nine inspectors currently under investigation, according to department spokesman McKinley Lewis.

Meanwhile, the archive of Glisson's sworn testimony before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 10 has been scrubbed of some of his audio as blank gaps now exist as he discusses cases in which he is alleging cover-ups and wrongdoing. 

Glisson, a supervisor who has a 20-year career in law enforcement, had a spotless history with the agency, according to his attorney, Steven Andrews. All three have been moved to DOC headquarters in Tallahassee and assigned to offices with no access to DOC records. For the most part, Andrews said, they’ve been given busy work to pass the time.

“This is the clearest case of retaliation I’ve seen in my 37 years of practicing law,’’ said Andrews, who represents Ulm, Clark and Glisson.

Jones told Senate Committees in March and again in April that she had asked Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate "every single accusation that they made" to determine if there was any wrongdoing by the inspector general, any rules violations or any evidence of employees being put under undue pressure.

More here.

Miami Herald special report: Life in Florida without Medicaid expansion

For two years, Florida legislators have refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Their decision left an estimated 850,000 Floridians without healthcare insurance in the "coverage gap." Those caught in the gap earn too much to receive Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidies to buy a plan through the federal marketplace. The Miami Herald looks at how these Floridians are coping and what other states are doing to close the gap.

Read the special report by Daniel Chang (@dchangmiami) here.