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Seniors group calls on feds to investigate nursing home deaths

The group that calls itself the conservative alternative to AARP is calling on the federal government to investigate the deaths of eight South Florida nursing home residents who died after Hurricane Irma knocked out their power.

Dan Weber, founder and CEO of the Association of Mature American Citizens, sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long asking the agency “to offer any and all assistance in the (state) investigations and, if necessary, conduct an investigation of its own,” according to a Thursday press release.

Weber

“We strongly urge that an official federal inquiry be launched to investigate why senior citizens are dying and at risk in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma,” Weber wrote. “We urge FEMA to assist in state’s investigations in every way possible.

“… (W)e must make sure that the safety of our most vulnerable citizens remain a top priority. We know you share these concerns, and we urge you to act to make sure they are promptly and fully addressed,” he added.

“It is unconscionable that in the 21st century and in Florida—a state where one in five people are 65 and older—America’s seniors are still apparently not given priority after natural disasters, especially in the wake of one as significant and highly-anticipated as Hurricane Irma. This appears to have been an entirely avoidable tragedy.”

The eight deaths happened at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which shocked Florida’s top leaders even as they surveyed destruction from a storm that spread its punishing effects across the entire state.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Gov. Rick Scott announced in a news release Wednesday night that he’s directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the facility, preventing it from admitting new patients indefinitely.

Firefighters also helped relocate 122 people late Wednesday from two assisted living centers near Orlando that had been without power since Hurricane Irma.

In Coral Gables, an apartment building was evacuated after authorities said its lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants. And at the 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door in the 94-degree heat checking on residents and bringing ice, water and meals.

Weber’s group bills itself as “the largest conservative due-paying member association in the United States with a membership of over one million seniors.” Weber founded the organization in 2007 as an alternative to AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission. 

Rick Scott blocks insurance premium hikes, cancellations during Irma recovery

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered a three-month freeze on insurance rate increases for homeowners struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma — plus a three-month grace period for policyholders who received non-renewal or cancellation notices just before the storm hit.

“Due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma, Floridians should be focused on getting back to their normal lives without their insurance premiums being increased,” Scott said in a written statement.

Additionally, Scott directed that insurers grant policyholders 90 days to document losses.

“Many Floridians were displaced during this dangerous storm, and providing additional time to submit information to insurance companies gives them needed flexibility,” Scott said.

The governor issued his directive to the Office of Insurance Regulation. He cited his authority under Executive Order 17-235, the emergency declaration he signed on Sept. 4 as Irma approached.

On Aug. 23, the insurance office conducted a public hearing into a proposed 10 percent premium increase for about half of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s 453,000 policyholders — mostly affecting those in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. The state’s insurer of last resort cited a 100 percent increase in the average cost of water claims in the Tri-County region.

“Hurricane Irma was a storm unlike anything we have seen before, and as residents across the state travel home to assess damages to their homes and businesses, we stand ready to help with any insurance issues that arise,” Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose office oversees the insurance regulators, said.

“Insurance can be complicated, and I’ll do everything in my power to protect policyholders throughout the entire recovery process,” Patronis said. ”Our team of insurance experts are standing by to take Floridians’ calls at 1-877-693-5236.”

The governor’s office directed policyholders to an Irma resources webpage, www.myfloridacfo.com, and to additional storm-related materials on the insurance office’s webpage here.

Rick Scott: ‘Fuel and power Florida’s top priorities’

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday night said he’s “made it clear” that getting gasoline to the pumps and turning the lights back on are tied for his No. 1 priority.

Scott “will continue to aggressively work until every Floridian can return to work and their kids can go back to school,” his office said in a press release.

“Florida is an incredibly resilient state and now it is time that we come together and rebuild,” he said in a statement. “After visiting shelters this week and talking to people who evacuated due to Hurricane Irma, the number one thing I heard from families is that they want their power back on.

“We must make sure Floridians have the fuel they need to get home and back to work, and the electricity they need to live their lives,” he added. “We are making progress on both fronts, but I will not rest until we are 100 percent recovered.

“While power has been restored to nearly two million homes and businesses so far, there is much more work that needs to be done. I have directed every state resource to help with these issues, and we are working with local officials, public and private utility companies and the federal government to fill gas tanks and turn on the lights.”

Highlights of the release are below:

— The current power outage as of 6 p.m. Tuesday is more than 4.7 million accounts. Since Monday afternoon, nearly 2 million accounts have been restored. 

— All three of Florida’s major fuel ports are open and operational: Port Tampa, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral. Port of Panama City is also open and operational. Each is prioritizing fuel shipments and FHP is escorting fuel resupply trucks to gas stations.

— Scott has directed Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) cut and toss crews to work alongside utility crews across the state to clear road debris so power can be restored quickly.

— He also waived the taxes on fuel trucks entering the state and held daily calls with all fuel supply stakeholders, including Florida ports.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday announced that the federal government has waived the Jones Act upon Scott’s request, which lifts additional rules and regulations to allow more fuel to get into Florida.

Also, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved an emergency fuel waiver which allows more fuel to enter the state.

Joe Henderson: Hopefully we learned Irma’s lessons

The winds have died and the mopping up has begun. Businesses are reopening as people head back to work while dealing, at least for now, with their new realities.

I know people whose homes were badly damaged by this storm, while others – myself luckily included – had only minor inconveniences. No matter whether Irma dealt you a mighty blow or a glancing scratch, we’re all in this together.

That’s why the most important questions in Irma’s wake is what we learned about the experience, and whether those lessons will stay with us as we go forward into what seems increasingly to be an era of super storms.

They had better.

HAVE A PLAN: You know all those TV people who start preaching in June about the necessity of having a hurricane plan? Maybe everyone ought to listen.

When the news of Irma’s impending arrival became real, there was a rush on water, batteries, flashlights, and necessities like canned goods. Those things are a lot more available in June than they are 48 hours before a Category 5 hurricane is predicted to strike.

Water doesn’t spoil.

If you have bought supplies in the past, you might want to update the inventory. On Saturday, after shelves had been cleared out and stores started to close, we confidently pulled out the giant plastic container that kept the supply of size “C” and “D” batteries. They were right where we left them.

They also had expired in 2011.

CUT FORECASTERS A BREAK: I actually heard some people complain weather forecasters were totally wrong on this one because Irma didn’t follow the initial projected paths. That’s crazy.

They routinely warned viewers that even the slightest change in conditions could send the hurricane off in many directions. They emphasized everyone was in danger, and everyone had to prepare like they were going to be directly in the damage path.

Even with the advanced and other equipment, plotting an exact course of these storms can be an inexact science. They get it right more often than not, though.

I remember hearing Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV in Tampa say last Friday that the eye of Irma likely would pass just east of the city, which is exactly what it did.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: People seem to have this one down. Shelters filled early as people wisely took no chances, Hillsborough County had to open more.

I wonder, though, if the story would have been the same had Irma stayed on the original east-coast track. Given the size of the storm, that could have been catastrophic here. Some people in Miami probably thought they were safe when Irma moved west.

How did that work out?

A POLITICAL MODEL: Future leaders take note: Gov. Rick Scott again provided a blueprint for how someone in his position is supposed to lead during a threat like this.

Like last year with Hurricane Matthew, Scott was here, there and everywhere, sounding the warning early, often and loudly.

As someone noted, when you see Rick Scott wearing the Navy ballcap, you know it’s getting real.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was all over TV, radio and Twitter with similar warnings. He gets the quote of the week with his one about how after 90 years of avoiding, Tampa was about to “get punched in the mouth.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Remember the lessons from this adventure because there will be a test. Just look at 2004 after Hurricane Charley left devastation in its path. Three more storms followed.

Wanna bet this won’t happen again?

I don’t.

After Irma, Florida’s evacuees contemplate return trip

Thanks to reconnaissance by a neighbor who stayed behind, Pam Szymanksi knows Hurricane Irma blew out the living room window of her southwest Florida home, but she isn’t sure when she’ll get to see the damage for herself.

“All I know is we have to check out of here tomorrow, because they’re booked,” she said Monday, sitting in the lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel where she arrived with her mother, two children and two dogs. A hotel reservation in Valdosta, Georgia, is next, Szymanksi said, but that’s still 350 miles from their home in Fort Myers.

“I don’t want to run into closed roads,” she said, “but I want to get home and start cleaning up.”

Szymanski’s family helped make up one of the largest storm evacuation efforts in U.S. history, after Gov. Rick Scott urged more than 6.5 million residents, one out of four of his constituents, to leave.

Now, with Irma advancing inland, a potential reverse migration from across the Southeast raises new worries of jammed roadways amid uncertain gasoline supplies, empty grocery store shelves, standing water and widespread power outages that in heavily damaged areas could last for weeks.

Scott cautioned evacuees not to rush back home.

“Storm impacts can continue well after the center passes,” the governor said from his official Twitter account, asking residents to follow local officials’ advice on when to return. He later retweeted FEMA’s warning that Irma involves “disruptions to daily activities” long after it passes.

That’s not necessarily a message Floridians want to hear, even as they contemplate reliving the day-long and overnight drives they endured just days ago.

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Rea Argonza was worried about money as she mapped out her return plans.

“Staying here, it’s been like a financial strain,” said Argonza, who traveled with her husband and five children from St. Augustine, Florida, to two hotel rooms 500 miles away near the Wake Forest University campus. “We’re up to almost a thousand dollars now. I do believe this whole expedition is going to be almost $3,000.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

Rick Scott focused on Irma recovery

Gov. Rick Scott can’t stop, won’t stop as the state mops up from Hurricane Irma.

Scott, who’s in Jacksonville this Tuesday morning, was all about preparedness as the storm approached. Now he’s focused on recovery, his daily schedule shows, with a media interview thrown in:

“7:20 a.m. — Call With Florida Power And Light President And CEO Eric Silagy Regarding Hurricane Irma Response

“7:35 a.m. — Call With Tampa Electric President And CEO Gordon Gillette Regarding Hurricane Irma Response

“7:45 a.m. — Call With U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers District Commander Jason Kirk Regarding Hurricane Irma Response

“7:50 a.m. — Call With Port Tampa Bay President And CEO Paul Anderson Regarding Hurricane Irma Response

“8:00 a.m. — Interview On CBS This Morning (Via Phone)

“9:00 a.m. —  Aerial Tour Of Hurricane Irma Impacts In Jacksonville”

We’ll update the schedule as the Governor’s communications office releases more details throughout the day.

Updated 9:30 a.m. — Scott will join Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, the state’s Adjutant General, and “Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and members of the National Guard on an aerial tour to assess damage from Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville,” his office said.

Then he’ll brief the media after the tour, around 10:15 this morning, at Jacksonville International SHELTAIR, 14600 Whirlwind Ave.

Rick Scott: Irma’s ‘storm surge could kill you’

With tropical storm-force winds less than 24 hours away, Hurricane Irma also is expected to bring storm surge of 6-12 feet to the state’s southern coasts, Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night.

“Our state has never seen anything like this before,” he said. The governor spoke at an evening news briefing from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

“Think about that: It could cover your house,” Scott told reporters. “This storm surge will rush in; it could kill you.”

The governor said that residents who have been ordered to evacuate should leave immediately: “Leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour. Now.” An official said later that about 5.6 million of the state’s 20.6 million residents are under evacuation orders.

Lee and Collier residents should be on the road by midnight, he added. “After that, do not get on the road … please go to a shelter.” Scott is from Naples.

“This storm is wider than our entire state; it is life threatening (from) coast to coast,” he said, mentioning 1992’s category 5 Hurricane Andrew, which caused $26.5 billion in damage and killed 65 people.

“Irma is more devastating,” Scott said. “Possessions can be replaced. Your family cannot.”

Bryan Koon, the state’s Emergency Management director, said the imprecise nature of predicting the storm’s path hampers the state’s ability to pinpoint needs.

“Every time the track shifts, it creates a hazard for a different part of the state,” he said.

The governor, a former private hospital-chain CEO, also asked the state’s businesses to “be compassionate” with employees, allowing them time to prepare for the storm or leave, as needed.

He also said traffic jams “are getting cleared,” but evacuations are “not meant to be convenient; they’re meant to be safe.”

About 1,700 Florida Highway Patrol troopers are working 12-hour shifts, and state and local officials are coordinating to make sure gasoline is available and power can be restored as quickly as possible, he said.

Scott thanked the 75,000 people who have signed up as post-storm volunteers, but said more are needed: “Let’s stay together and help each other.”

Jack Latvala critical of storm strategy

Republican candidate for governor and state Sen. Jack Latvala says state officials may have “overdone it” in preparing for Hurricane Irma.

Latvala, in a Thursday interview with the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau, questioned the mass evacuations of coastal areas, including in his home county of Pinellas.

“I’m not sure that we haven’t overdone it a little bit,” he told the Times/Herald. “Do you have to close down the state four days before the storm gets here?”

Latvala also said constituents have asked him, “ ’Why are we doing this so early?’ ”

“He stopped short of criticizing Gov. Rick Scott,” according to the report, saying the governor “is doing his job as he sees the need to do it.”

But he added, “I think he‘s being a little … cautious.”

The Associated Press reported Friday morning that Irma “weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida with storm surges that could reach 10 feet in some places.” Irma’s winds dropped to 150 mph, still a dangerous Category 4 storm.

Rick Scott closes all public schools in Florida

All public K-12 schools, state colleges and state universities have been shut down from today through Monday to ensure room for “sheltering and staging” for Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Thursday night.

All state offices also are closed today.

In a statement, Scott explained he was ordering “the closure … to ensure we have every space available for sheltering and staging,” he said in a statement.

“Floridians are facing a life-threatening storm in Hurricane Irma,” Scott added. “Our state’s public schools serve a vital role in our communities as shelters for displaced residents and staging areas for hurricane recovery efforts.

“Closing public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices will provide local and state emergency officials the flexibility necessary to support shelter and emergency response efforts.”

Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close because of the looming arrival of Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.

The storm’s latest track has it likely making landfall in Florida Friday night. From there the storm is likely to make its way up the center of the state. Scott and forecasters have warned residents in all corners of the state that they could be affected.

For detailed shelter information, visit www.fldoe.org/irma and www.floridadisaster.org/info.

Annette Taddeo suspends campaign because of Irma

Annette Taddeo, Democratic candidate for South Florida’s Senate District 40, says she is suspending her campaign as Hurricane Irma approaches the state.

“Our community’s safety must be our singular focus right now,” she said in a statement. “Therefore, I have instructed my team to move to immediately suspend campaign activities and have asked that we pause any advertising from airing as soon as possible.

“I call on my opponents to join me in this effort and ask that both sides immediately cease campaigning to ensure our teams and their families can prepare for the storm,” she added. “We will also shift any campaign efforts to focus on hurricane preparedness as I remember my families’ challenges as they lived through Hurricane Andrew and the need to have all hands on deck as our community braces for Hurricane Irma.

“I urge everyone to heed the warnings issued as we prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Taddeo said, echoing Gov. Rick Scott‘s statement on the storm.

Taddeo is running against Republican Jose Felix Diaz and independent Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth for the seat, vacated by former GOP Sen. Frank Artiles. Their campaigns have not yet responded to Taddeo.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered a special election for the district on Sept. 26.

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