Opinions Archives - Page 4 of 229 - Florida Politics

William Large: Florida must end assignment of benefits abuse, self-serving windfalls

William Large

A state law that was originally intended to give individual policyholders special rights in disputes with their insurance companies is instead being used by some repair vendors and their lawyers to generate a self-serving windfall. The problem is serious and growing, and it’s driving insurance costs higher and higher.

The so-called “one-way attorney fee” allows a policyholder to collect their legal fees from their insurer if they win a claims dispute. But, if the policyholder loses in court, they don’t have to pay the insurer’s legal fees.

Some repair vendors, though, are tricking policyholders into signing an assignment of benefits or AOB. This allows the vendor to seize control of the policyholder’s special rights, file a claim and sue the insurer, often without the policyholder’s knowledge or consent.

Now, this litigation-for-profit scheme has become an incentive for lawyers and their vendor clients — often water damage remediation firms, roofers, or auto glass shops with aggressive marketing schemes — to clog the courts with lawsuits and generate big paydays for themselves.

Recently, the Florida Justice Reform Institute revealed how the growing use of AOBs and the one-way attorney fee by third parties is increasing litigation and costs.

Using the Florida Department of Financial Services’ service of process database, we discovered some startling insights.

From 2000 to 2016, Florida’s population increased 26 percent, while total litigation filed against insurance companies increased about 280 percent.

In particular, AOB litigation increased by over 66 percent from 2010 to 2011, fell briefly after the 2012 auto insurance reforms, and then started rising again. From 2014 to 2015, AOB litigation increased 10.7 percent, and then 21 percent from 2015 to 2016.

AOB lawsuits initiated by vendors who provide water cleanup, restoration, drying, mitigation, mold detection, or remediation services were overwhelmingly concentrated in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. On average, these three counties produced more than 80 percent of litigation from these vendors in 2014, and that share rose to nearly 85 percent in 2015, and nearly 89 percent in 2016.

Unfortunately, the problem is not just confined to home insurance claims. Auto glass claims also saw a staggering increase — over 3,000 percent in five years — from 591 claims in 2011 to 19,558 claims in 2016.

But the most surprising discovery was that nearly 25 percent of all AOB cases — from property to auto to auto glass — filed in Florida between 2013 and 2016 were filed by just 11 lawyers.

The bottom line is that all this rampant AOB abuse and litigation is driving insurance costs up. Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier had it right last month when he told the Governor and Cabinet that there’s no other explanation other than the one-way attorney fees.

The Florida Legislature has strong data supporting this growing problem. It’s time for them to pass meaningful reforms and stop a handful of unscrupulous repair vendors and their lawyers from using the policyholders’ special rights for their own benefit. Keep consumers in control of the insurance policies they bought and paid for, and stop the abuse that’s sending insurance rates higher.

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William Large is President of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

The Florida Justice Reform Institute was created in 2005 to fight wasteful civil litigation through legislation, promote fair and equitable legal practices and provide information about the state of civil justice in Florida. Visit fljustice.org for more information.

Martin Dyckman: Memory of FSU professor’s enduring lesson on free speech, tolerance

An enduring lesson on what freedom of speech should mean to a college campus was taught more than a half-century ago by one of my favorite professors at Florida State University, Lewis M. Killian.

I hadn’t taken his class or even met him at the time but something I had written was a hot discussion topic that day.

It was a letter in the student newspaper, the Florida Flambeau, mocking the Kappa Alpha fraternity for wearing Confederate uniforms and waving the Rebel flag during homecoming festivities. As I recall, there was a reference to the hind end of General Lee’s horse. I was a freshman, and the hyperbole was sophomoric.

It was a fortuitous time to have taken ill and be in the campus infirmary. Some young men, I was told, were looking for me.

“He didn’t have a right to write that,’ exclaimed a student in one of Killian’s sociology classes.

The professor exploded.

“You can disagree with it all you like,” he said, “but don’t ever say in MY class that someone doesn’t have a right to write something.”

This is the place to mention that Lew Killian had grown up in Macon, Georgia, with an accent thick as clabber. In his memoir, he called himself a Cracker.

And he was the faculty adviser to the Kappa Alpha chapter at FSU.

Outgrowing his background, he had become emblematic of the conscience of a new South.

Knowing both worlds, he taught his most popular class, race relations, with strict objectivity and sensitivity to the irascible emotions of the time. Because of his support for students engaged in the lunch counter sit-ins of December 1960 the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce wanted him fired. So did the more racist members of the Board of Control, which had the power to do it. Nothing doing, said FSU President Robert M. Strozier, whose fatal heart attack in 1961 was widely blamed on the segregationist harassment he had withstood.

There were segregationists among faculty and students too. What people like Killian and Dyckman said about race was as unwelcome to them as “The Bell Curve” author Charles Murray‘s views are to the students—and, perhaps non-students—who rioted against him at Middlebury College recently.

But at least the segs let us speak and write. The Middlebury rioters owe an apology not just to Murray, but to the conservative students who wanted to hear him speak. They owe one also to the students and faculty who wanted to debate Murray responsibly and rationally.

They also owe some time in jail, in my opinion.

Nothing is more dangerous to a democracy than the suppression of speech. It’s how Hitler‘s brownshirt thugs paved the way for his dictatorship. It’s inexcusable whether it comes from the right or the left.

Nothing could be more opposite the primary purpose to which colleges and universities should be dedicated.

That is to teach critical thinking skills to the people who soon enough will be in charge of our economy, our government and our future, whether as business leaders, teachers, politicians or simply voters. Critical thinking is essential not only to all academic disciplines; it is vital to everything.

But you can’t inspire critical thinking in people who are willing to hear only what they want to hear. You can’t teach it to people who would try to get a professor fired rather than personally challenge him or her to rationalize a provocative expression. You can’t teach it to people who demand a “trigger warning” lest they hear something that might offend their fragile sensibilities.

Having spent a little time around Middlebury while my wife was studying for three summers there, I was astonished that something like the Charles Murray riot could happen on that campus.

But it isn’t so surprising in the light of some disturbing data reported in a Washington Post column the following week.

Since 1970, an enterprise called the General Social Survey has been polling public attitudes toward allowing such controversial people as racists, atheists, and communists to speak in their communities. One question, almost presciently describing the case against Murray, gave the example of “a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior.”

In 1976, about 84 percent of respondents 18 to 25 with some college education said yes, that person should be allowed to speak. Older and non-college people were somewhat less willing.

But by 2014, support among all groups had dropped to 50 percent, with college-educated youths posting by far the largest decline. They were also less willing than before to hear a communist speak.

It may seem strange to be talking about their intolerance when it is intolerance itself that the young people think they are defending against.

But no person has the right to decide for others what “truth” they will hear. The remark attributed to Voltaire applies: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Near the end of a long life in which he had often been vilified, Thomas Jefferson wrote this: “We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

It’s by those lights that Lew Killian lived and taught. Bless his memory.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Michael Carlson: Don’t trade a tax cut for a tax increase – preserve the salary tax credits for insurers

Michael Carlson

For three decades, Florida has offered insurance companies a highly effective, performance-based tax credit that has resulted in tens of thousands of good jobs being created or imported to our state. Not only does this credit bolster our state’s economy in a transparent, accountable way, it also helps ensure insurance rates for Floridians stay as affordable as possible.

Senate Bill 378 by Sen. Anitere Flores would bring that to an unfortunate end. It would repeal tax credits available to insurers as a way to lower the communications services tax currently levied on telecommunications, video, cable and satellite television and other related services.

Cutting one tax but increasing another is a bad trade that would do more harm than good. It would eliminate tax credits that have been working exactly as intended and sets a bad precedent for other businesses considering a move to Florida based on the availability of similar tax credits. Importantly to consumers and businesses, it would amount to a $300 million tax increase that could translate to higher insurance rates for everyone.

The insurance premium tax credits allow insurers to deduct 15 percent of the employee salary for each job they create or import to Florida from the premium tax they pay each year to the state. For taxpayers, the essential fact is this: Insurers only get the credit if they actually create or import a job. They don’t get a credit for a mere promise of creating jobs. And if the insurance company eliminates the job, they lose the credit.

An independent evaluation of the tax credit in 2013 found it had led to the creation of 40,000 insurance industry-related jobs since 2008 – a tremendous return on the state’s investment. In other words, while many industries were being hit hard and laying off workers during the Great Recession, the insurance industry in Florida was able to create good-paying jobs for Floridians.

Since the recession, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have strongly focused on job creation and strategies that promote economic growth in the state. Unquestionably, this credit has contributed to the insurance industry’s considerable investment in Florida. In fact, the insurance industry today touts more than 200,000 jobs that collectively pay about $12 billion in total salaries to workers in Florida.

It’s important to consider that if this successful tax credit is repealed, Florida will be sending a conflicting message to all industries that are thinking about relocating to Florida under the promise of a tax credit like this one, only to watch it get repealed years later. Even worse, eliminating it could send companies out of Florida to a competing state to plant their headquarters or call centers and, quite possibly, to a location that offers the tax credits they thought they would be able to maintain here in Florida.

While periodic review of corporate incentives is reasonable, it would be a mistake to repeal tax credits that have created jobs in Florida and contributed to the economy. We urge lawmakers to reject SB 378 as a shortsighted move that would swap one tax for another and result in higher premiums for all purchasers of insurance.

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Michael Carlson is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a trade association of insurance companies that provide automobile and homeowners’ property insurance.

Joe Henderson: After Enterprise Florida fight, Rick Scott has little political capital left

Rick Scott went to Tallahassee in 2011 as an outsider. He often has operated like one as well, and not always in a good way.

In a private company, stubborn employees can get fired for standing up to the boss. In politics, though, defiance can be considered a virtue. Eventually, people who vow to run government like a business learn you can’t just issue orders and expect things to get done.

Real democracy can be a free-for-all.

That brings us to the current state of affairs in the capitol city, a time that has the seen the governor behaving less like a CEO and more like a politician trying to win friends and influence people.

To save his most-favored Enterprise Florida agency, the governor put a public campaign that included visits, robo-calls, videos and a public mocking of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

It didn’t work, at least not yet.

The House dealt the governor a stinging rebuke last week with by passing HB 7005 – or what Scott calls “job-killing legislation” – by an overwhelming 87-28 vote.

Scott responded with a statement reading in part, “Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear – a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”

Everyone waits now to see what happens in the Senate, where Jeff Brandes has a bill that would keep Enterprise Florida but with much greater state oversight. Scott, meanwhile, is keeping up the pressure.

His office sent out eight news releases Monday within 19 minutes touting job gains in cities around the state. He made sure to credit the embattled jobs agency.

It was easy for Scott to get his way when he arrived in Tallahassee on a populist wave, promising to produce jobs and get Florida out of the Great Recession. He certainly wasn’t the only political leader in the land who favored subsidies to jump-start the economy.

Now that those jobs have been created – Scott claims more than 1.3 million overall so far – the mood in Tallahassee has shifted away from what Corcoran calls “corporate welfare.”

That has forced the governor into a defensive posture that he clearly isn’t used to and hasn’t shown evidence yet of mastering.

Meanwhile, the Commerce and Tourism Committee is set to consider a bill from Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa to repeal a program designed to make it easier for pro sports franchises to get state money for stadium projects.

Scott signed that bill in 2014, although an aide was quick to correct me recently when I called it a “pet project” of the governor’s. But, the governor obviously supported the measure and in a statement at the time said, “This sports development program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

Times have changed, though, so I doubt the governor will spend any political capital now to save that pot of state money for professional sports franchises.

With all his chips in the middle of the table for Enterprise Florida, he likely won’t have much of an appetite to fight for sports teams. Judging from the way things are going, lawmakers probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

Bryan Avila: Paving the way for Florida’s 5G future

Bryan Avila

We have all seen the recent stories about Florida’s job boom and our strengthening economy. It is undeniable that we are headed in the right direction. As my colleagues and I prepare for the coming legislative session, it is essential that we focus on the future of our economy. Recently, my colleagues in the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee learned more about the future of connectivity and the exciting opportunities that are on the horizon for towns and cities across our state – opportunities that are fueled by small cell deployment and 5G capabilities.

House Bill 687 offers a path to those opportunities. House Bill 687 is about investment in new, modern infrastructure. It is about paving the way for Florida’s 5G future.

This bill is about investing in success for neighborhoods and communities across Florida. Areas like Hialeah, the sixth largest city in the state.

This bill is about increasing capacity on networks across the state to better allow Floridians to stay connected with their families, to communicate about what’s happening in their communities, and to stay informed on issues of importance.

It’s about providing the network that Florida businesses – both large and small – will need to increase productivity and engagement with their customers. Businesses like Hialeah Hospital, in the heart of District 111, or its parent company, Tenet Health Care, with 10 hospitals across South Florida, will be able to maximize efficiency for its patients, health care professionals and facilities.

This bill is about Smart Cities, with better traffic flow, more sustainable and efficient utilities, and greater resources for public safety. It’s about the future of travel. As we prepare for increasingly connected vehicles and driverless cars, this bill will ensure Florida is leading the charge in wireless connectivity.

For years, leaders in Florida have worked hard to keep our state at the forefront, driving our nation’s economy, allowing for job creation, and encouraging growth and prosperity. This bill is about taking the next step to help ensure we continue on that path to success.

The trends are clear, and the demand on our wireless networks in Florida will only continue to grow.

By helping to clear regulatory obstacles, we can take the necessary steps to encourage communications companies to create Florida jobs and build out the modern infrastructure that will enhance and sustain the type of high-speed, data-rich connections that Florida residents and businesses demand.

We have an opportunity to improve connectivity in our communities today and prepare Florida for the future of communications.

In the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will be working to find ways to keep Florida as a leader in our nation’s economy. We will be working to help Florida businesses continue creating sustainable jobs and dynamic careers for Floridians. We will be engaged with leaders from across the state to ensure that Florida remains committed to innovation and opportunity.

By supporting House Bill 687 and clearing the way for small cell deployment, we can send a signal that Florida remains open for business and welcomes investments in the future of our communities. I applaud my fellow Miami-Dade Delegation member from the Senate, Frank Artiles, Chairman of the Senate Communications, Energy, & Public Utilities Committee, for passing the companion version of this bill out of his committee, and look forward to the future of 5G in Florida as this legislation moves its way through the process.

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Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila represents District 111 in the Florida House.

 

Martin Dyckman: What have we become in the time of Trump?

A young woman who works at a store that we frequent told of a recent experience that haunts my mind, as I hope it will yours.

She and her husband were homebound from a European vacation. As the aircraft waited on the tarmac at Amsterdam’s airport, an announcement told three named passengers to identify themselves to a flight attendant.

Every name, she noted, sounded Middle Eastern.

Each was asked to produce a passport, even though all the passengers had had theirs inspected at least twice before boarding.

A young man near her was one of those singled out. As he stood to retrieve his bag from the overhead bin, she saw that his hands were trembling. She wondered whether he would even be able to handle the bag.

A flight attendant checked the passport and left him alone.

He took his seat, still shaking.

“Are you all right?” she asked him.

“I am an American,” he said. “I was born here.”

So that is what we have come to in the time of Trump.

Concurrently, wire services reported that Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parent who denounced Donald Trump at the Republican convention and challenged him to read the U.S. Constitution, had canceled a speaking engagement in Canada after being told, or so it was said, that “his travel privileges are being reviewed.”

His son, Captain Humayun Khan, was protecting his troops in Iraq when he was killed by a suicide bomber.

“This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why,” Kahn said. The statement did not say who told him about it.

The cancellation was announced on the same day as Trump signed a new travel ban targeting Muslims abroad.

The speech Khan had been scheduled to give in Toronto was on the subject of “tolerance, understanding, unity and the rule of law.”

Khan, a native of Pakistan, has been an American citizen for more than 30 years. There is no legal ground for the government to restrict travel of a citizen who is not accused of crime.

A statement from an unnamed Customs and Border Patrol official, quoted by POLITICO, declined to comment on the specific report but asserted that the agency doesn’t contact travelers in advance of their foreign trips. It hinted, however, that questions might have been raised about Kahn having or having applied for trusted traveler status, which speeds up airport security checks.

We need to know more about this. Was it only a rumor that reached Kahn? Was it a misunderstanding? Or something more sinister?

In any event, it was reasonable for Kahn to be concerned in the time of Trump.

Now imagine, if you will, the terror of that young man aboard the airplane multiplied millions of times by Americans with dark skins or foreign-sounding names now that ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — agents are on a rampage.

It’s about American citizens, not just immigrants who are unauthorized. It’s no longer about targeting only those who commit serious crimes — which they do less frequently than legal residents. It’s about expelling everyone that ICE and its allies in some police agencies can get their hands on. Even Dreamers, those brought here as children, whom a humane president had promised to protect, are being swept up.

There are an estimated 11 million of these vulnerable people, by the way and they are your neighbors. They could be the people who built your house, picked the fruit for your breakfast, and tidied up the hotel room where you last stayed.

Think of our country without them. It will be a different country if Trump has his way, and it won’t be a better one.

The statistics are sobering.

According to a draft paper published in November by the National Bureau of Economic Research, unauthorized immigrants account for about 3 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). Take that away, and it spells recession.

They represent 18 percent of the workforce in agriculture, 13 percent of construction employment, and 10 percent of the leisure and hospitality sector. They’re particularly significant to the economies of five states: California, Texas, New York, Illinois and, yes, Florida.

The report’s authors, professors at Queens College of the City University of New York, calculated that if their presence were legalized, their contribution to GDP would increase, significantly, to 3.6 percent. It would no longer be easy for unscrupulous employers to exploit them.

“Documented foreign-born workers,” they added, “are about 25 percent more productive … with the same levels of education and experience,” as the undocumented.

Legal workers would not replace most of them. A 2013 North Carolina study noted that “natives prefer almost any labor market outcome … to carrying out menial harvest and planting labor.”

Here, from The New York Times, are some other pertinent facts:

About 60 percent of the 11-million have been here 10 years or more. Many are homeowners. A third of those 15 or older live with at least one child born here, who has citizenship by birth. (Where will the foster care be for so many Trump orphans?) The proportion of the estimated 300,000 with felony records is half the rate of felons in the overall population. Illegal border crossings are declining; a growing number of unauthorized immigrants simply overstayed their visas.

The 11 million are here, for the most part, because America has needed their labor and the taxes they pay. The entire nation collectively turned a willfully blind eye to the underlying illegality, just as it did during Prohibition. Every president before now has tried to reform the situation in a humane way. Only now is one catering to a minority — and they are a minority — who vote their hatreds instead of the religions they profess.

A young citizen trembling on a plane. A prominent naturalized citizen who fears to travel. Parents and children terrified of separation. Business booming for private prisons.

What kind of country have we become?

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Florence Snyder: Rick Swearingen plays J. Edgar Hoover while Broward burns

While Bald Badasses Rick Scott and Rick (“We know the terrorists are here!”) Swearingen are busy playing dress-up like Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, Florida’s criminal justice basics are increasingly under the command of the Keystone Kops.

The governor and FDLE commissioner are looking to raid state trust funds to “fight terrorism” by adding 46 new Counterterrorism Avengers to the payroll. It’s a good way to grab a cheap headline, and deflect attention from truly terrifying tales of our collapsing criminal justice infrastructure.

Speaking to a legislative committee this week, Swearingen had the gall to invoke the memory of the five travelers who were shot to death in January at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The shooter, Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago had an easy target in a facility that has suffered from years of budget cuts and bad management. As passenger traffic grew by millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

We know that because Gannett’s Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley followed the trail of public records and reported that there were no armed deputies in the terminal when Santiago opened fire. In the decade before Santiago’s rampage, the number of deputies assigned to the airport had dropped by roughly the number of Homeland-types Swearingen seeks to hire. Crisis-trained deputies had been kicked to the curbs to direct traffic, deal with drunks, and reunite children with their lost stuffed animals.

Down the road from the Ft Lauderdale Airport is another threat to public safety that we know about because of journalists and not because of grandstanding politicians. Florida Bulldog reports that Broward’s new courthouse is, to put it mildly, “riddled with security issues.” The $276 million building features light switches and thermostats located inside, instead of outside, the cells. That way, the inmates can literally run the asylum.

The juvenile holding cells are coed, right down to the open toilets. Revolted by the 14th-century design, the juvenile judges revolted and refused to move into the new – but not improved – facility. Those courtrooms will stand empty until someone figures out how to “repurpose” them.

America spends billions every year on counterterrorism. If we can’t rely upon Washington to do its job, then we are in more trouble than Swearingen can fix with 46 new agents, or 4600 new agents.

If trust funds are to be raided in the name of public safety, why not hire some lab technicians and get on with eliminating Florida’s shameful backlog of rape kits.

Maybe FDLE can take advantage of some of that empty courtroom space in Ft. Lauderdale.

Joe Henderson: ‘Stand Your Ground’ lacks common sense, legalizes lethal impulse

Supporters will argue that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is vital to individual safety, but the measure never took judgment and common sense into the equation. It legalizes impulses that can be deadly.

On Friday morning in a Dade City courtroom, Judge Susan Barthle ruled that retired Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves’ impulse when he shot Chad Oulson to death after an argument didn’t convince her that he was in sufficient fear for his life.

This clears the way for the 74-year-old Reeves to stand trial for second-degree murder. He could win acquittal there if a jury of his peers find his story more believable than the judge. Fox 13 in Tampa reported she wrote in her ruling, “The physical evidence contradicts the defendant’s version of events.”

Reeves’ version of the fatal afternoon when his argument with Oulson got out of control can be summed up in a statement he made last week during his testimony: “At that point (in the argument), it was his life or mine.”

I can’t crawl insides Reeves’ head and neither can you to know if he was using “Stand Your Ground” as a ready-made excuse after realizing what he had done. But I can say that this tragic situation is exactly what people who oppose this law warned could happen – and likely will happen again.

There is a proposal in the Legislature to make prosecutors prove a defendant didn’t feel threatened.

Imagine the havoc that could unleash.

This law assumes that anyone under duress will be cool enough under pressure to use lethal force only to save themselves or their family from a real threat. This isn’t a movie set though, where James Bond calmly dispatches three or four bad guys trying to kill him and then orders a martini, shaken not stirred.

In the real world, a jittery old man in a darkened movie theater decides a younger, larger man is out to kill him when the two started arguing over cellphone use (before the film started, by the way).

There is no doubt Oulson could have handled the situation much better, but so could Reeves. Either one could have walked away, and we never would have heard of either man.

But no. We have “Stand Your Ground” and its false premise that every situation like this could be lethal. How can you tell? It makes the shooter the victim.

Judge Barthle didn’t buy that argument.

If the looney bill that would force prosecutors prove a defendant didn’t feel threatened ever becomes law, though, judges may have no choice but to buy it next time.

Melissa Larkin-Skinner, Roger Johnson: Solving Florida’s critical psychiatrist shortage

It’s no secret by now that our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Overdose deaths are at an all-time high, with no signs of slowing down. If the epidemic hasn’t already touched you or someone you know personally, the odds are that it will soon.

Tragically, our great state is not immune to this crisis. In fact, the statistics in south Florida are among the most alarming nationwide. Officials in this region estimate that someone overdoses every two hours, and overdose deaths in just three counties — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach — were on track to exceed 800 last year. Manatee County has had the highest per capita death rate for the past two years.

At the federal, state and local levels, there are several education, prevention and treatment-related initiatives aimed at combating this addiction crisis. For example, recent federal policy changes are allowing psychiatrists to treat more patients with Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), one of the primary and most effective tools we have in fighting addiction.

A significant challenge we face, however, is a severe shortage of psychiatrists across our nation and here in Florida. If you’ve tried to make an appointment with a psychiatrist recently, you likely know how serious this shortage is. According to Florida’s 2015 Physician Work Force Annual Report, 14 counties in our state have no psychiatrists, and nine counties only have one. Professional physician recruiters estimate that there are about 250 vacant positions for psychiatrists in Florida. There are simply not enough doctors available to treat the number of Floridians who need critical, lifesaving help.

It is estimated that two-thirds of physicians remain within 50 miles of where they complete their residencies. Thus, filling the vacancies in our state means that we need to recruit more medical students to the field of psychiatry and train them locally.

Unfortunately, maintaining a psychiatric residency program is not easy. Behavioral health hospitals like Centerstone Hospital and Addiction Center cannot receive federal medical education funding to train up-and-coming psychiatrists like acute care hospitals receive for training physicians. This reality has contributed to the closure or scaling back of several Florida residency programs in psychiatry.

Luckily, our state legislature has stepped up to contribute funds to sustaining psychiatric residencies in our state, allowing us to train more psychiatrists to serve Floridians in need of treatment.

Centerstone is proud to have launched a psychiatric residency program three years ago, to help us further meet the needs of Florida families. This program allows us to expand our capacity to treat those in need today and shore up our state’s overall base of psychiatrists for the future.

It is estimated that a psychiatrist will serve approximately 40,000 Floridians over the course of his or her career, or roughly 800-1000 people, often in desperate need of help, each year. Through expanding our program to 16 residents, we will be able to contribute 4 new psychiatric residents and 2-3 new psychiatrists, plus support staff, to our workforce annually, who will collectively serve an additional 3,000 Floridians each year.

Given that research shows that untreated or undertreated mental health and addiction issues are the cause of significant declines in employee productivity and increases in absenteeism and unemployment, ensuring a strong psychiatric workforce is critical to the health and well-being of our residents and our economy.

We thank our legislature for their leadership and support on this issue and look forward to working with our public officials further on changing lives across our state.

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Melissa Larkin-Skinner, MA, MBA, LMHC, is interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Clinical Officer of Centerstone in Florida.  Roger Johnson is Senior Vice-President of Medical Services & Managed Care at Centerstone and leads the organization’s psychiatry residency program.

You know you talk like a toddler, right?

A recent and deeply disturbing addition to the Word Salad Hall of Shame is the painfully frequent use of the word “right” pronounced in the earnest tone of a toddler in need of constant reassurance.

“I pooped in the big girl potty, right? so I can play with my Legos, right? and then we can go to Granny’s, right? and we can have hot dogs for dinner, right?” is an adorable, if exhausting, indication that a little one is learning how to win friends and influence those closest to her. Soon, she’ll leave the need for constant reassurance behind and make her way in the bigger world of classrooms and playgrounds.

Even a small dose of “right?” is anything but adorable in the mouths of politicians, pundits, and other professionals who get paid to persuade us that they know what they’re talking about.

It was bad enough when adults in positions of authority took to ending simple declarative sentences with a “right?” Now, they’re tacking it on to the end of each clause.

Many of the hackneyed expressions that make up the iceberg lettuce-base of Word Salad are used primarily by Valley Girls and Someone’s Ne’er Do Well Nephew that we aren’t listening to, anyway. By contrast, “right?” has metastasized to some really smart people at every point along the political spectrum.

We’d listen to them more if they weren’t in constant need of soothing, like the brilliant baby-man that Beck Bennett plays so brilliantly.

It’s a good time to buy teddy bears, right? and baby blankies, right? because we seem to be having an adult onset insecurity epidemic. Right?

 

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