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Senate committee postpones mental hospitals discussion to January


The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs cancelled a presentation Thursday on the state’s beleaguered mental hospitals, which have been subject to scrutiny over violence tied to understaffing and budget cuts.

The reason, said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who chairs the committee, is that senators needed to catch evening flights home to their districts. But the issue is likely to come back up when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the regular session that begins Jan. 12. Until then, senators tough questioning of Department of Children and Families Assistant Secretary John Bryant will have to wait.

Still, Sobel said there’s a need for changes that her committee and others in the Senate should address. Chief among them is dealing with the large workloads that many workers at the institutions face.

“They need to increase staffing … I think it’s doable. I think it’s necessary,” Sobel said.

And, she said, more training is key as well.

“I don’t think people who are custodial should be taking care of these people without proper training,” Sobel said.

Though it may be possible, it could be an uphill battle. Allowing DCF to hire more workers and spend more on training will largely be decided in the budget process, which could mean less money for tax cuts or increases in other parts of state government. 

And even if the House and Senate are able to agree on a larger budget for the department, Gov. Rick Scott has already indicated that he’s not interested in increasing the workforce in DCF. In the governor’s budget proposal released last week, he included no new workers in the mental hospitals.