Tampa Bay Times Myths vs. The Facts

Here are the Myths the Tampa Bay Times has made, with the facts

Times Myth: …years of neglect and $100 million in budget cuts have turned them into treacherous warehouses where violence is out of control and patients can’t get the care they need.

From 2011 to 2013 alone — at the same time violent incidents rose across the state — former DCF Secretary David Wilkins oversaw $61 million in cuts from the hospitals, more than 15 percent of their funding. That came on top of about $35 million already cut in the two years prior.

Facts: These figures are grossly inaccurate and do not contemplate the complexity of state budgeting. The General Appropriations Act sets the budget for all state agencies. Hospital budgets were reduced by $49,454,872 from Fiscal Year 2008-2009 to Fiscal Year 2015-2016. This data was provided in detail to the Times prior to publication.

Times Myth: Nearly 1,000 patients ordered to the hospitals for close supervision managed to injure themselves or someone else.
Over the past five years, at least 15 people died after they injured themselves or were attacked by other patients.

Facts: There were eight deaths at SMHTFs from Fiscal Year 2009-2010 to Fiscal Year 2014-2015 reported as a result of self-injury or homicide. These tragic deaths have been fully reported and all were investigated by law enforcement.

Times Myth: Employees are left alone to oversee 15 or more mentally ill men. Sometimes they carry no radio to call for help, and the nearest guard is in another building or on another floor.

Facts: This is inaccurate. Staffing requirements do not permit a staff member to work alone in a dormitory, hall or ward.

Times Myth: The hospitals eliminated almost a third of their workforce.
Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny laid off one-third of its psychology staff, according to Harry Reiff, who was head of psychology services at the time. Before Cook was stabbed in the face, her hospital cut the number of guards on duty from 12 to eight, according to former security supervisor Gerald Simmons.

Facts: This is inaccurate. NEFSH lost one psychologist. In 2011, NFETC had 43 guards. Today, 47 guards are employed at the facility. Also, Florida State Hospital (FSH) never had any nursing assistants.

Times Myth: At least three people died because hospital workers took too long to call 911. Some employees say they felt pressure not to call paramedics because of the expense.

Facts: Staff members are, and always have been, required to call 911 during an emergency. If the department is made aware of any staff that does not contact proper authorities during an emergency, they will be held fully accountable. Since 2009, the department has enhanced staff training regarding emergency response and reporting.

Times Myth: Since 2005, DCF administrators have steadily relaxed reporting requirements so that hospitals no longer need to disclose most patient injuries. The reports that have been filed are in such disarray that accurately comparing them over time is impossible.
DCF administrators were unable to provide copies of dozens of incident reports for their mental facilities.

Facts: This is false. Documents were not lost. In order to improve standardization and transparency, the department moved to a centralized incident reporting system in 2010. Prior to that time period the facilities collected and reported data differently.  The critical event reporting form was developed in 2010 and did not go into statewide use until 2011. Therefore, there were no incident reports to provide to the Times prior to 2011. 

Resident and staff injuries that occur in the SMHTFs as a result of an accidental injury, self-inflicted injury, or an altercation are subject to the reporting requirements of department policy. The definition of a reportable event has changed since the department first established mandatory reporting in 1998.

Times Myth: Florida has no statewide minimum staffing requirements.

Facts: This is not true. DCF has staffing requirements and requires that staff does not work alone on any ward, hall or dormitory. Minimum staffing requirements were sent to the Times for each hospital.

Times Myth: Beginning in 2005, Florida quietly phased out restraints and reduced time spent in seclusion. Hospitals became more reliant on drugs to keep patients calm. And hospital workers became an even more important line of defense. Increasingly they were expected to stand watch over patients and calm them with words or physically step in to prevent violence.

Fact: Hospitals do not use medications as an alternative to seclusions and restraints.
In 2004, facilities began transitioning away from using Aggression Control Techniques (ACT) as a manner of reducing resident injuries.  They replaced ACT with the Mandt System. ACT focused primarily on controlling behavior; the Mandt system’s focus is positive behavior support and minimizes the use of coercion and promotes a trauma-informed care environment.

Times Myth: As hundreds of hospital workers lost their jobs in 2011, attacks increased across the state. In 2009, state records and police reports show 23 acts of violence against patients or workers at the four hospitals that house patients until they are fit to stand trial. The next year, there were 48. By 2014, the number reached 72.

Facts: There has been no significant increase to aggressive acts at state forensic facilities since 2009. DCF does not track incidents as “violent.” Instead, incidents that result in a significant resident or staff injury are reported as critical events. The department is committed to enhancing the way these incidents are tracked, so we can keep residents and employees safe.

Times Myth: Earlier this year at the state institution in Chattahoochee, two younger patients beat MMC because they thought he was a snitch. No one made sure the men remained separated. The next morning, upset about the attack, MMC threw urine on them.

Facts: MMC was in an altercation with two other residents and two staff members immediately intervened to de-escalate them, separating the residents.  The dorm supervisor, security and nurse were notified.  All residents were secured in their rooms. The three males in the altercations were on separate sides of the dorm.  An investigation was conducted by law enforcement and the patient involved in this tragedy was charged with second degree murder.

Times Myth: DM learned what happens when no one is around to keep patients under control. […] More than two minutes after the men started arguing, the first employee arrived.  […] Florida taxpayers were left with more than $60,000 in emergency room bills.

Facts: This narrative misrepresents appropriate response to the incident. Security was called within thirty seconds after the altercation began and arrived in approximately two and a half minutes. During the assault the direct care staff attempted to intervene without success.