Setting the Record Straight, Part Two

For Immediate Release:
November 2, 2015

Setting the Record Straight, Part Two
The Tampa Bay Times Continues to Sensationalize the Operation
of the State Mental Health Treatment Facilities to Support False Narratives

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Times published the second article in a series today that continues to misreport the Department of Children and Families’ management of Florida’s mental health hospitals. The Tampa Bay Times seems to think that DCF can pick and choose what laws to follow. DCF follows every Florida law, and prides itself on practicing transparency and accountability as core principles in every program, including the state’s mental health treatment facilities.

Again, instead of focusing on ongoing reforms and improvements in how Florida helps people dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, the Times has chosen to sensationalize and misrepresent the facts. This summer, Governor Scott signed two Executive Orders to better coordinate care for Florida’s mentally ill. The Times fails to mention these reforms or any of the steps taken to better treat Floridians dealing with mental health and substance abuse illness.

Please see the statement below from Secretary Mike Carroll.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said, “As we continue to take meaningful strides in the way we treat patients, we will continue to operate with transparency and accountability in every area of the agency. DCF cannot pick and choose what laws to follow, and we will continue to follow the law in everything we do.

“Over the last year, we have taken steps to improve the way we help Floridians dealing with mental health illness and substance abuse issues. Governor Scott’s recent proposal includes tens of millions of dollars in additional funding, a full audit of the state’s mental health treatment facilities, and the creation of pilot programs in three Florida counties to better improve mental health services. We are fully committed to finding more ways to improve services and treat more Floridians in their communities and not in the custody of the state.”

 

Times Myth: Under Florida law, DCF can withhold information about people who die in its care, so long as the agency decides no employees were to blame.

… When reporters asked for the names of hospital employees accused of abuse, lawyers for the state declined. They said Florida Statute 415.107 — a law to protect the identity of victims and people who report abuse — also covers the names of abusers.

Facts: DCF fully follows Florida law and operates transparently and with accountability.

Section 415.107, Florida Statutes, makes confidential all records of adult protective investigations concerning vulnerable adults.  This confidentiality extends to the identity of the vulnerable adults as well as the identity of persons responsible for the welfare of vulnerable adults, including state workers who act in a caregiver role at state facilities.  There is no general exception to this confidentiality contained in the statute for state workers.  In other words, simply being a state worker does not disqualify you from the protections afforded by the statute. 

The only exception to the confidentiality afforded to victims and alleged perpetrators occurs if it is determined that a vulnerable adult has died from abuse or neglect as determined by a medical examiner.  In those situations, records of protective investigations, as well as the identity of victims and perpetrators, become public pursuant to section 415.107(3)(l). 

Times Myth: DCF officials refused to name any of these employees.

Facts: All redactions are done in accordance with section 415.107, Florida Statutes. The Times requested and were provided multiple lists of all employees that work at FSH, NEFSH, NFETC. The Times were provided with full employee personnel files of any employee requested. The Times were provided with every discipline action taken against employees at the hospitals from 2010 to 2015.

Times Myth: In 2009, SF was so constipated that he vomited and started seeing double from the pain. Nurses did not call 911 for hours, until his urine turned brown. SF died that night when his bleeding colon became infected.

Facts: There was NO delay in medical treatment.

Times Myth: A brief description of most deaths is publicly available in “critical incident” reports that hospitals must file each year with DCF. The reports offer a few sentences about deaths, major injuries, and other serious incidents that occur at state-funded mental facilities. But they leave out many details.

The report on TC makes no mention that worker Anilien Lamarre failed to check on him and was fired. The report on SF does not note that he died from constipation that staff members ignored. And the report on LE?  The hospital never filed one.

Facts: Critical Incident reports provide only brief descriptions of incidents in order to quickly notify DCF headquarters. They do not serve as a full review of a death. Per department policy, a full mortality review is completed in the event of ANY death in the SMHTFs. Deaths that occur in the SMHTFs are reported to headquarters on a “Notice of Death” form, not on a “critical incident” report. A record of LE’s death is included on the 2011 list of deaths across facilities. 

Times Myth: When someone dies in a Florida mental hospital, staff members are required to conduct a “mortality review” to find out what happened. If they suspect wrongdoing, the investigation is handed off to DCF inspectors. These investigative files only become available if DCF officials decide the death is a result of staff abuse or neglect.

Facts: Per department policy, a mortality review is completed in the event of any death in the SMHTFs.  If abuse/neglect is suspected or in an emergency situation, staff are required to notify proper authorities. 

If reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline and criteria are met to suspect abuse/neglect, Adult Protective Services will investigate for possible abuse or neglect on the part of facility staff. 

Times Myth: At NEFSH in Baker County, a technician grew frustrated with a patient whose illness caused him to drink life-threatening amounts of water. The state fired him after he was caught shoving the patient’s head into a water fountain and yelling: “You want to drink water? Here, drink all of it.” The worker appealed his dismissal and later won his job back.

Facts: DCF has zero tolerance for the mistreatment of patients in our care. Adult Protective Services was contacted and investigated this case. Pursuant to department policy, the employee was terminated. The employee appealed the termination and the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission directed the department to reinstate the employee.

Times Myth: Like everyone else, mental patients have a legal right to keep their medical records private… Even parents can be denied information when their adult child is injured or killed in the state’s care.

Facts: All residents at the SMHTFs are adults. Parents are only permitted access to their adult child’s information if they have legal rights (power of attorney, legal guardian). On multiple occasions, DCF provided the Times with contact information for attorneys who could assist these parents with access to their children’s records.

Times Myth: The top administrator at each of Florida’s six largest institutions declined to speak with the Times/Herald-Tribune.

Fact: DCF staff worked with the Times on a weekly basis for eighteen months and was extremely responsive and accommodating to each of their requests.

DCF facilitated an hour long interview between four of its reporters and DCF Secretary Mike Carroll and DCF Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health John Bryant in September 2015.

Times Myth: When the Times/Herald-Tribune asked to visit the hospitals, officials at Florida State Hospital and at Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp gave closely monitored tours of areas away from patients. They would not allow patients to be interviewed or photographs to be taken inside. None of the other hospitals allowed reporters on their grounds.

Fact: The Times requested and was granted a tour of Florida State Hospital. The tour was arranged to allow a transparent view of life and treatment at the hospital, while preserving the privacy of the residents. Residents in the care of these hospitals are receiving high level behavioral health treatment and by law are afforded privacy while receiving care. DCF would never violate patient’s most basic rights to privacy.

The Times did not request tours of Northeast Florida State Hospital or North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center.

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