How Florida treats mentally ill: Like 3rd World country

For the head of the county branch of a national mental illness support group, Florida’s approach to treating the mentally ill is shocking.

“I’m from the north,” Marsha Martino told about 60 people gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion on the mental health epidemic in Palm Beach County. “I have never lived in a place so devoid of services.”

“This is like a Third World Country.”

Martino lived in Maine and New Jersey before moving to Palm Beach County nine years ago. She has been executive director of the county’s National Alliance on Mental Illness branch since August.

Panelists at Leadership Palm Beach County meeting Tuesday March 29, 2016, are from left: NAMI worker Peter Davey, NAMI-Palm Beach County Director Marsha Martino, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger.
Panelists at Leadership Palm Beach County meeting Tuesday March 29, 2016, are from left: NAMI worker Peter Davey, NAMI-Palm Beach County Director Marsha Martino, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger.

She spoke to a Leadership Palm Beach County class of about 60 at The Palm Beach Post on a panel with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Gauger, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and Peter Davey, a young man who has battled mental illness.

The system here makes it hard on the mentally ill, Martino said.

Released from treatment, a mentally ill person likely must wait six weeks for treatment. For some, the act of remembering an appointment six weeks away is an “insurmountable barrier,” she said.

In Maine, she said, a patient would be seen by a team of mental health professionals the next day.

Marx, who presides at first-appearance court, said he sees tragedy daily. When mentally ill individuals are arrested, they lose their job, which means they can’t pay for housing, which means they lose their daily shower and shave, which means they lose the chance to get a job, Marx said.

“They have nowhere to sleep. They’re sleeping in your neighborhood,” he said.

One repeat offender, arrested for having an open container, begged the judge to send him back to jail. “I’ve hit bottom,” the man told Marx.

The judge sought a bed for the man. Nobody had one. Finally, he found a place willing to provide a bed for free. He released the man, ordering him to appear in court two months later.

He did, the judge said. And he was good.

“Judge, you saved my life,” the man told Marx.

Without prompting, the man came back again 30 days later to show the judge he was still clean, still working.

“Nine out of 10 do not come back,” Marx said. “But isn’t it worth the effort?”

But such efforts don’t soothe the populace, Marx said. He hears: “Judge aren’t you getting soft on crime?”

“No,” he says. “I’m getting smart on crime.”

PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger discusses mental illness as Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx listens at a Leadership Palm Beach County panel discussion on Tuesday March 29, 2016, at The Palm Beach Post.
PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger discusses mental illness as Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx listens at a Leadership Palm Beach County panel discussion on Tuesday March 29, 2016, at The Palm Beach Post.

Parental denial is one of the biggest problems, Gauger said. He pointed to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, to illustrate.

“Many families are absolutely in denial when it comes to substance abuse or mental health issues,” the No. 2 official to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. “That’s what Adam Lanza did. He locked himself in the room and to entertain him, his mother took shooting and to buy weapons.”

Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.

Awareness is key, the panelists agreed. As is ending the stigma.

Paraphrasing the words of Mother Teresa, panelist Davey said, even when they act badly “love them anyways.”

At drug summit, Obama arrives bearing gifts

Moderator Sanjay Gupta listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit at AmericasMart in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Moderator Sanjay Gupta listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

What’s the use of being the commander in chief unless you can do a little commanding from time to time?

Which is why President Barack Obama didn’t show up empty-handed Tuesday afternoon at the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin in Atlanta. He had executive branch agencies arrive bearing gifts. Among them:

  • Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed rule to increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients. HHS had already released $94 million in new funding to 271 community health centers, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction and abuse- it could assist 124,000 new patients.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is releasing a $11 million for up to 11 states to expand medication-assisted treatment for addiction.
  • Back to HHS: Information on HHS-funded programs regarding the use of federal dollars to start or expand needle exchanges.  Obama last year reversed the longstanding ban on federal money for such programs.
  • Also from the White House, an announcement that more than 60 medical schools, beginning in fall 2016, will require their students to take some form of prescriber education, the better to curb the kind of prescribing that has resulted in 215 million U.S. prescriptions for narcotics every year. The only Florida school named: University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

“Very rarely is money the answer alone,” said Obama to a crowd of about 2,000. “But it helps.”

Will Florida’s prescription monitoring database broaden to share anonymous information?

Deaths linked to prescription oxycodone in Florida plummeted after drug monitoring database was adopted.
Deaths linked to prescription oxycodone in Florida plummeted after drug monitoring database was adopted.

Tallahassee could probably feel the love emanating all the way from the second floor of the Westin Peachtree in downtown Atlanta Tuesday morning: The object of affection at the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin is Florida’s Prescription Drug monitoring database, or EForcse.

Fought for since 2001, approved in 2009 and finally operational in October 2011, the database curbs doctor shopping for opioids by tracking prescriptions for the drugs.

It’s been wildly successful at curbing oxycodone-related overdose deaths in Florida, as its latest report shows. In fact, it’s considered a model for other states of just how effective such a database can be.

At a Summit seminar Tuesday morning, there was a discussion by program manager Rebecca Poston of possibly broadening its scope, by linking it to other databases, such as the database of drug-related deaths compiled annually by Florida medical examiners, or the state database on Hepatitis C infections.

The idea is to provide a sweeping look at Florida public health issues, particularly as it involves patterns of drug use.

Nothing on that scale is happening yet. Whether it occurs depends in part on the University of Florida securing a grant which would fund such a program. (EForcse gets no state money for its operations.)

But it raises a question of whether Florida’s lawmakers would resurrect the same privacy concerns they raised back in 2009 and later when arguing against establishing the prescription monitoring database at all.

Poston points out that, as envisioned, there would be no way an individual could be identified. You could not, for instance, be able to individually link Adam Smith to his oxycontin prescriptions, then his treatment for Hepatitis C, his medical treatment for addiction or his death from an overdose. The data would have no names attached.

Post reporters Christine Stapleton and Pat Beall are covering the Summit live from Atlanta. Look for continuing updates on The Insider blog.

 

Juvenile Justice agency to county commissioners: We’re working on reported problems at local juvvie center

Christina Daly didn’t have to pen letters to each of the Palm Beach County Commissioners about conditions at the local juvenile detention center, but the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice chief’s two page missive might allay concerns.

“I can assure you this department does not tolerate conduct or an environment that puts youth at risk,” DJJ Secretary Christina Daly wrote commissioners on Monday.

And Daly ticked off a laundry list of efforts: an unannounced visit by both the Inspector General and the head of the agency’s Bureau of Inspections, a fresh round of surveys of teenage boys housed there, a facilities inspection, an assessment of how staffers are trained in the use of force and, of course, the request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement look into the facility.

Youth Services International, the Sarasota-based company operating the center under contract to DJJ, isn’t mentioned in the letter.

But it’s very much in the forefront of criticism. Legal advocates, including lawyers for teenagers housed in YSI facilities, have slammed YSI for several years. Only last year, a Florida Senate subcommittee took testimony into conditions at a Broward center run by the company.

YSI denied allegations of maltreatment and DJJ’s inspector general also found nothing to report.

None of that seems to have factored into Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana’s desire to see the county break its $1-a-year lease with DJJ for the center property and send the agency, and its contractor, packing.

Shelley Vana, paying a second visit to the juvenile center.
Shelley Vana, paying a follow-up visit to the juvenile center.

Rather, it was what Vana found in April when she paid a surprise visit to the 118-bed facility.

Then, this month, two teens were injured; one was hospitalized. In both cases, DJJ said, another teenager was responsible for the injuries- not a staffer.

But staffers have had problems, too, including two who faced misdemeanor criminal charges after arranging a fight between teenagers there.

 

 

Lease could keep kids’ lockup here, despite criticism of conditions

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility

Severing the Department of Juvenile Justice’s lease for a kid’s lockup here may be easier said than done.

Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana would like nothing better than to see DJJ and the private company it hired to run a juvenile detention center just west of the Fairgrounds close up and go home.

Vana, wetter than a mad hen over conditions at the juvie jail, this week told County Administrator Bob Weisman to look for a way out of its contract with the state agency.

It’s the county’s land that the Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility sits on. DJJ leases it for $1 a year.

Weisman took a first look at the 1990s-era lease and wrote to the legal department that, “It seems to say that we cannot terminate the lease unless the termination is in accordance with law, but yet it doesn’t seem to provide a way that it could be in accordance with law, but then it says that if a court rules the termination was illegal, that we will pay DJJ for the value of the facility.”

“Makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile, DJJ has scrambled to keep up with criticism of the vendor actually running the show: Sarasota-based Youth Services International.

The state agency stepped up monitoring and it appears the teenagers will get milk or juice with a snack, not water. YSI ordered parts for broken plumbing and at least some kids got new shoes and socks.

Then, last month, in an out-of-left-field move, DJJ asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review what was going on at the facility, which holds 118 teenage boys, most of them in pretty serious trouble with the law.

YSI has been dogged by allegations of maltreatment for years. Critics cite a string of scandals linked to the company and its predecessor, including the 1999 collapse of a juvenile jail contract in Pahokee. And for years, company officials have insisted any bad employees have been fired and reforms adopted.

The problems just keep coming, though. Things seemed to come to a head last year, when a Florida Senate subcommittee on criminal justice agreed to hear testimony about a troubled YSI-run Broward center and DJJ canceled a contract with YSI for another center in North Florida.

But even as the troubles mount, so do the deals: According to DJJ records, YSI still holds more than $100 million in contracts to run Florida juvenile facilities.

No big prison reform, but now they can track the chemical spray

Apparently, Florida has all along needed a law- or Rick Scott’s blessing – to figure out just how much CS gas (aka pepper spray)  state prisons have, where they put it and how they can get rid of it.Scott+2015

Finding a better way to trash empty gas canisters is not what the architects of a sweeping Senate prison reform bill had in mind this past session.

That bill was gutted by the House, though, just before it closed down for business three days ahead of schedule.

All along, lawmakers behind the Senate bill said the House’s suggested reforms weren’t reforms at all, but were window dressing: Changes that no one needed a law to implement.

Like figuring out how to inventory pepper spray.

This afternoon, Gov. Scott signed  Executive Order 15-102, which the governor’s office said makes “significant reforms in Florida’s prison system to improve safety, transparency and accountability.” Among the reforms:

  • Establishment of a usage and inventory policy to track, by institution, the use of chemical agents and disposal of expired, used, or damaged canisters of chemical agents.

The order also includes some significant items, such as unannounced inspections and  statistical analysis examining use of force by guards.

Not included, though, was the central Senate reform, an independent oversight commission. Nor were other reforms the Senate considered necessary in the wake of a series of stories by The Post, the Miami Herald and others exposing prison inmate deaths, abuse and unchecked brutality.

Just months ago, FSU’s Project on Accountable Justice concluded the state prison agency was so flawed that it recommended basically rebuilding it from the ground up.

One of the cases cited by the group:  The 2010 death of  Randall Jordan-Aparo.

He was gassed to death by guards.

.

 

 

Another day, another Florida prison guard headed to jail

Columbia CI
Columbia CI

Another day, another prison guard bust.

Make that two guards.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reports that Columbia Correctional prison Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and guard Donald Dwight Sims, Jr. have been charged with aggravated battery on an inmate and, in Jernigan’s case, tampering with evidence.

According to the FDLE, this is how it played out:

The Columbia Correctional Institution guards were taking Shurick Lewis, 41, to solitary confinement this past February when they ordered other inmates to leave the area. Lewis was then taken to a place without video surveillance and assaulted.

According to FDLE, after the beating, Jernigan told other inmates to clean up the blood, put a new mattress on the bunk and throw away bloody clothes.

Lewis, bleeding from his nose and mouth and with a swollen eye, was seen by a prison nurse. It’s not known what care he got, but the nurse sent him back to his cell – where he lost consciousness.

Several hours later, he was found by officers on the next shift and taken to Shands Hospital, where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

The two guards offered vastly different stories: Sims said Lewis fell off his bunk. Jernigan said he used force after the inmate lunged at him.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail yesterday. Sims was arrested Monday night.

All this comes within weeks of the arrest of two prison guards and one ex-guard — all reputed members of the Ku Klux Klan — for conspiring to kill a former inmate.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as the start of a clean sweep, but it does give some credence to  Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones’s written comments about Jernigan and Sims: “The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals.”

 

No loose lips here: prison chief clamps down on talk of inmate abuse investigations

Julie+JonesTiming, as they say, is everything.
Smack in the middle of intense media scrutiny over inmate abuse and deaths, newly installed Department of Corrections chief Julie Jones has clamped down on agency investigators who discuss – yes!- inmate abuse and deaths.
Existing policies on how to access public records won’t change, but investigators with the agency’s Inspector General who investigate abuse, and until recently, deaths, are now required to sign off on agreements barring them from discussing open or closed investigations, even with other law enforcement officials.
Jones may have thought this was a smallish issue. After all, the same rules applied when she headed up the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
But that department wasn’t fending off accusations of cover-ups, violence, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the governor’s office intended to clamp down on bad press. And it didn’t have four whistleblowing Inspector General investigators already in court alleging retaliation by higher-ups.
A DOC spokesman says the move is designed to halt casual talk about formal investigations – think World War II and “Loose Lips sink ships”. But the ban also applies to closed investigations when presumably, loose lips would have no impact on a case. And it requires that no investigator “volunteer” information about a case. If not asked, they can’t tell.
And there is a lot to talk about, including why medical companies withheld information on inmate deaths:
http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/private-health-firms-withheld-details-of-some-inma/nj6dr/#5db6b621.3545241.735638