It was St. Johns County’s six consecutive year taking both the “health outcomes” category, which account for length and quality of life, and “health factors,” a complex metric comprised of lifestyle habits, access to medical care, area socioeconomics and the physical and the physical environment around us.
Collier, Sarasota, Seminole and Martin counties round out the top five health outcomes. In health factors, Sarasota, Martin, Seminole and Collier round out the top five in that index.
So those are the healthiest.
Which are the unhealthiest?
Gadsden and Union counties are at or near the bottom again.
The rankings use self-reported information, factoring in natural and unnatural deaths — both intentional and unintentional. Smoking, traffic, car accidents, alcohol consumption and much more are used in the data.
The biggest surprise, said Aliana Havrilla, a community coach with County Health Rankings and Roadmaps? Deaths of younger generations are on the rise.
“Drugs are a big factor in the category,” Havrilla told FloridaPolitics.com on Tuesday. “This is a key trend we’re seeing right now.”
Havrilla said that what their researchers are learning is that where we live definitely has an influence on us.
The 2016 rankings examined the differences between rural and urban influences on how humans live.
“The rankings help to see where the counties are doing well and where improvements are needed,” the community coach said.
All resources used in the rankings are available online at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.
Since it opened in 1997 the story of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort has been written through the athletes who have competed on its fields, courts and diamonds.
The grand opening of the sports complex featured the Atlanta Braves as they defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 9-7, in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 at a spring training game.
Each year the complex hosts more than 100 annual athletic events. It has become a place where athletes challenge themselves, push their limits and make their sports dreams come true.
Michelle Obama spoke to hundreds of children and their parents about the importance of healthy living during the Let’s Move! health initiative February 11, 2012, at the complex. Orlando City Soccer played its full regular soccer season there in 2014. More than 500 wounded, ill and injured military personnel competed in 10 sporting events during the 2016 Invictus Games led by Prince Harry.
Chris Hart is getting back to business, and this time it’s a family affair.
Hart, the former president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and his wife, Amy, recently opened The Hare & The Hart, a home décor and design firm in Tallahassee.
The family-owned company specializes in toile with a hometown twist.
“As a tribute to the town I’ve called home for a good part of three decades, I have designed a toile that shows some of its iconic sites and scenes,” wrote Amy Hart on the company’s website. “Depicting venues running the gamut from the new amphitheater at Cascades Park to the 1600’s-era Mission San Luis, I’ve brought my sketches together in a design that tells the love story of a town full of history, canopy roads, magnolias, rolling hills, beautiful architecture, gardens, and hip new hangouts.”
The Hare & The Hart debuted its toiles during the spring edition of French Country Flea Market. During an interview on ABC 27 earlier this month, Amy Hart said the toile was designed to “celebrate our town.”
While toile is traditionally a fabric, The Hare & The Hart has several options for people looking to get their hands on the scenes, including wallpaper and mugs. The company also has a Woodland Creature series, designed by the Harts’ daughter Maddie.
“At The Hare & The Hart, we live a life that is English at heart with a Southern soul (and a French twist!), and we are thrilled to debut or toiles and other lines that embody all three,” wrote Amy Hart on the company’s site.
A former state legislator, Chris Hart took over the helm at Enterprise Florida in January. Two months later, he announced his resignation, citing ongoing differences with Gov. Rick Scott over the future of the agency.
Florida officials say they’re continuing aggressive efforts to stop the spread of the Zika virus.
Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with Miami-Dade County officials to discuss Zika preparedness ahead of Florida’s rainy season, when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
Officials said fewer travel-related cases are being reported in Florida so far this year, compared with last spring.
Officials also said state labs and Miami-Dade mosquito control operations added staff since last year’s Zika outbreak. Counseling also is available for families affected by the virus that can cause severe brain-related birth defects.
Florida has reported two locally acquired Zika infections in 2017. Health officials said both patients likely contracted the virus last year in Miami-Dade County.
Zika mainly spreads by mosquito bites but can also spread through sex.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
I was meeting with the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s Communications Committee; there was some brainstorming about session ideas for the upcoming Chamber Conference.
There were some thoughts thrown out, and quite a few comments were made. Then someone said, “how about automation and artificial intelligence.”
Suddenly, a surge of ideas and thoughts hit the room like a vicious uppercut from Mike Tyson circa 1999. All industries went into the mix: retail, auto, construction, medical and legal.
We are on the crest of a mighty wave of disruption, the likes of which the world has never seen.
That wave, my friends, is called “artificial intelligence.”
We must approach this wave head on like the wise one Jeff Spicoli(of 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High played by Sean Penn) once said, “Well Stu, I’ll tell you, surfing’s not a sport, it’s a way of life, it’s no hobby. It’s a way of looking at that wave and saying, ‘Hey bud, let’s party!’” Indeed.
The most interesting part of the discussion was about the legal world. The speaker dove into AI platforms that actually answer legal questions. The conversation quickly escalated to why not have AI judges, lawmakers and police?
Think about an AI cop pulling someone over. There would be no concern for their own safety, no bias. Same with a judge, no agenda, no individual interpretation of the law. Only the facts. That is unless it was an AI judge from Iran?
Lots to ponder here. Let us move into legal AI.
Each day, our world creates about 2,500,000,000,000,000 quintillion bytes of data. This data needs review and analysis. What better way to review data, than have a supercomputer like IBM’s Watson jump on it?
For example, Watson please review every piece of legal information on the web about police use of excessive force (only cases where the suspect was perceived to have a weapon) in the United States to assist with county of Los Angeles v. Mendez. This is happening.
AI research tools like ROSS are changing the game. Firms like Salazar Jackson and Latham & Watkins are on board with ROSS.
Part of a psychological evaluation administered to Naika Venant in June 2015 included a sentence completion test.
For the beginning stem sentence “The thing I want to do most of all is …” the then-12-year-old girl responded: “Die happy.”
Sentence tests can provide indications of attitudes, beliefs, motivations or other mental states.
Other sentences she finished: “My best friend is … I don’t have a best friend.” “The person I’m most afraid of is … nobody.” “I would do anything to forgot the time that … I made my mom cry.”
Among 3,523 pages of records recently released by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) about Venant’s history in the child welfare system — and her life — are details about that June 2015 evaluation, carried out by Dr. Terilee Wunderman.
(The trove of documents were only made public after The Miami Herald fought in a court of law to have them released and did not include a DCF rapid response report already public.)
The psychologist goes on to note that Naika was depressed, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and that her diagnosis for attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder by an earlier therapist was “not entirely appropriate” at the time.
Wunderman said, “there is much concern that her attention problems are due to anxiety and trauma rather than true ADHD symptomology.”
Because of that, her recommendation was to “re-evaluate” the 10 mg of Adderall Naika was prescribed due to the child’s already existing depression since one of the drug’s side effects is depression, “and Naika is coping with considerable depression related to her traumas … another regimen might better address her emotional difficulties,” it said on page 97 in the third installment of a final review of her foster care records.
She had, indeed, been through several traumas to that point. Naika was repeatedly molested and raped by another adolescent boy, 15, also a foster child, in a home with several other foster children, from April to December 2009 — when she was 7. She was Baker Acted once. She had endured physical abuse and had been exposed to sexually explicit material, and had inappropriately become sexualized at a young age.
In Jan. 2009, her biological mother arrived home to find a 4-year-old girl performing oral sex on Naika. Her mother beat her with a belt, leaving roughly 30 lashing marks all over her body — Naika then went into the foster care system, only to be raped by the 15-yr-old foster boy months later.
Her father was absent from her life and her mother struggled to keep the electric on when they were living together.
In all, Naika spent 16 months in foster care three different times, being placed in 14 different homes in the last nine months of her life, four alone in October 2016.
Less than a week before her mother finally gave up custody of Naika, her medication was ramped up.
By May 2016, she was taking 50 mg of Vyvanse, an Adderall generic. Another prescription had been added by Dr. Alon Seifan, page 110 notes on the third part of the final evaluation of her DCF foster care records: 25 mg of Sertraline, or Zoloft, a so-called ‘black-box warning’ drug. The designation comes from the Food and Drug Administration and is given to those pharmaceuticals deemed potentially hazardous.
A rapid response report issued by DCF March 8 stated in ‘Finding A’ of the organizational assessment of Our Kids and CFCE said that “the child welfare professionals involved in this case were highly experienced and well prepared to perform their responsibilities; and while overall caseloads across the case management agency were slightly elevated, it did not have an impact in this specific circumstance.”
Case managers have the option to seek a second consultation after a first consultation when medication is prescribed for a child under their care. It is unknown if the CFCE case manager or case manager’s supervisor considered a second medical opinion on this matter. CBCs follow the same directives as DCF investigators throughout the state as dictated by Statute 39 of Florida’s judicial branch.
Jessica Sims, spokeswoman for DCF, said medicating a child was an issue that fell under the domain of parents, legal guardians or a court.
“The department does not prescribe medication,” Sims said by email Friday. “Only medical professionals, not child welfare employees, are responsible for the prescription of medication and informed consent must be obtained from a parent/legal guardian or the court. DCF does not determine what medication children take.
FloridaPolitics.com reached out to both Our Kids and CFCE for comment, but did not immediately receive a response before the publishing of this article.
It’s important to note because, on page 118 of Part 3 of the final review of Naika’s foster care records, Seifon made hand-written notes that Zoloft could induce “suicidal ideations” while Vyvanse’s potential side effect could be “sleep disturbance.
A question on the form asked how long the medications were to be prescribed. Seifon wrote, “indefinite.”
If a case manager had questioned any of this, they could have sought a second psychiatric/medical opinion based on both Seifon’s and Wunderman’s recommendations for and against prescriptions for Naika.
She hung herself in the bathroom of her final foster home in the middle of the night Jan. 22. (Her biological mother, Gina Alexis, had been made aware of the unfolding situation via a flurry of text messages, but she had no idea what address her daughter was at in the city if Miami Gardens.)
Seifon checked the “no” box on page 120 to a question on the same form documenting the psychotropic mix he was prescribing the child that asked, “Are there other treatment options available in lieu of administering the psychotropic medications recommended above?”
That was April 26, 2016.
By Dec. 8, Dr. Scott Segal doubled the Zoloft dosage to 50 mg daily and raised the Vyvanse back to 50 mg after it had been reduced to 30 mg.
A month and a half later Naika was dead.
FloridaPolitics.com attempted to reach Segal for comment, but he did not respond before the publishing of this article.
Naika’s case hauntingly parallels that of Gabriel Myers, who hung himself in the bathroom of his foster parent’s home in April 2009. Myers, who had been sexually molested, was also prescribed medication. He was 7 years old. His father was in an Ohio prison, and his mother was reported found unconscious in her car with drugs openly on display around her, which is how Myers wound up in foster care.
The Myers incident shook Florida’s child welfare system to its core and a special panel was formed to seek a way to better improve care for Florida’s foster children.
“Key initiatives from the Gabriel Myers Work Group were implemented and have been further improved over time,” Sims said. “The department’s office of child welfare recently organized a multidisciplinary review team that conducted more research on the procedures surrounding the prescription of psychotropic medication by physicians for children in care, and are exploring additional avenues of systemic improvement. Also, the CIRRT regarding this case outlined the need for enhanced coordination of care by providers and behavioral health professionals to ensure information is appropriately shared for the most effective level of care to be provided.”
But it goes beyond that, according to Howard M. Talenfeld, an attorney specializing in child welfare.
He told FloridaPolitics.com there aren’t enough therapeutic homes within Florida’s privatized child welfare structure to place children in with a complex set of problems, as was the case with Naika.
“Many children in foster care have serious behavioral problems resulting from the traumas of their abuse, removal from their natural parents, and then the further trauma of bouncing from one placement to the next,” Talenfeld, also the president of Florida Children First, said by email Thursday. “In many cases, foster children are medicated and chemically restrained after appropriate placements, and therapeutic interventions are not made available to address the needs of these children by the private agencies responsible for their care.”
It’s a catastrophe that has repeated itself over and over, he said.
The attorney is currently providing Naika’s mother, Alexis, with advice, but is not representing her because he doesn’t counsel on behalf of adults.
He said Our Kids, which is subcontracted by DCF, handles home placements while CFCE, subcontracted by Our Kids, oversees the case management of those placements.
Dr. James Sewell, a retired assistant commissioner of the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement and child welfare consultant, was a member of the Gabriel Myers Work Group in 2009.
He said it was his understanding there were still significantly fewer therapeutic homes available to place children with specialized mental health or behavioral needs into for Florida’s foster children.
He agreed Naika’s case disturbingly resembled that of Gabriel in several ways, particularly the link between foster children with complex issues and the coupling of medication.
“He was too frequently shuffled from place to place,” Sewell by phone Friday. “All too frequently we put them on psychotropics because it’s easier for the schools or parents than really dealing with the problem. … We don’t adequately prepare caregivers or foster parents with enough resources to effectively deal with them.”
Another part of the problem, he said, was that DCF is underfunded with a large staff — currently about 13,000 — and the pay scales for that personnel are not competitive.
“(They) don’t pay worth a damn and the old adage, ‘You get what you pay for,’ is true here,” he said, referring to the state’s salary rate for DCF employees. “We need to make sure that the folks who are dealing with our children are the best and the brightest, and the most skilled.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger says the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel has not been changed due to the death of Carrie Fisher.
Fisher completed filming her role as Princess Leia in “The Last Jedi” before her death following a heart attack in December.
Iger said in an interview at a University of Southern California tech conference Thursday that Fisher “appears throughout” the film and her performance “remains as it was.”
Iger says Disney is discussing “what could be another decade and a half of Star Wars stories.”
Iger’s remark came on the same day Disney ended speculation that he would retire this year by extending his contract one year to 2019. He says he and Disney’s board thought they needed more time to work on a succession plan.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
In a few weeks or months, we will learn the name of the Volusia County woman who, in 1997, had the bad fortune to encounter one Robert Sheridan Haar.
Relying upon DNA evidence, police say Haar, 22 at the time, and two of his yet-unidentified predator pals abducted and gang raped her near Mud Lake in Daytona Beach. She was 14 years old.
To her attackers, she was just a piece of meat, a nameless target of opportunity. Today, Haar sits in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting the paperwork necessary to bring him back to Volusia County, thanks to what turned up in the 20-year-old rape kit of a nameless, helpless victim whose attackers figured they’d never see again.
Haar and two sidekicks allegedly told the teenager she would be killed if she screamed or resisted. The trio dumped her in Port Orange the next morning, when they were done with her.
She’s not done with them. “Obviously, she was very emotional, she did recall the incident very well although it had been 20 years,” Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Thoman said in a news conference. “She was definitely willing to pursue the case.”
Haar had managed to keep his DNA out of a law enforcement database until 2016, which is, coincidentally, the first time that the 19-year-old rape kit for this victim was submitted for testing.
Haar’s arrest comes as a reminder that he’s not the only person who might be decades overdue to face a grown woman with a prosecutor at her side and account for himself to the terrified child she used to be.
We can’t be reminded too often.
Florida’s public officials love to talk tough on crime, but they won’t cough up the chump change it would take to clear the backlog of rape kits gathering dust as perps remain free to gather new victims. The number of untested rape kits now stands, roughly, at 6444.
A sub-contracted case manager with the Florida Department of Children and Families was arrested for falsifying information regarding the well-being of children living alone, officials confirmed Thursday.
Spokespeople for both DCF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Vanessa Arias, 33, was arrested Friday for lying on safety reports.
“The department has no tolerance for any individual compromising their integrity and, thereby, potentially jeopardizing the safety of a child,” Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for DCF, told FloridaPolitics.com by email. “We immediately investigated Ms. Arias upon receiving these allegations and referred this case to law enforcement soon after.”
Arias is accused of knowingly stating erroneous information in records she had visited the home of five children in Kissimmee, roughly 22 miles south of Orlando, when in reality she had not, and further, didn’t return more than a dozen phone calls made from one of the children trying to notify her of their plight.
Lying on child welfare records is a felony offense in the state of Florida. She was booked into the Osceola County Jail, according to FDLE.
“One of the children said Arias was last in the home just after Thanksgiving of 2014,” the Orlando Sentinel reported, citing a report by FDLE Special Agent Stephen A. Brenton. “She stopped by and dropped off some Christmas cards in early December, but ‘stayed in the car because she did not like the roaches in the home.’”
The mother of the children was there only “sporadically,” a child told police. Officials confirmed the mother had been arrested for child abuse and neglect.
But Arias claimed on her Jan. 8 safety check report the children were “free from any visible signs of abuse/neglect with all their basic needs being met at this time.”
A statement by FDLE said a child made 16 phone calls to Arias in the home between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015, but none were returned. A single candle was being used to provide “light and heat to the children,” the statement said, due to the electricity being shut off.
FDLE agents finally responded to the home on Jan. 18 after receiving notice from DCF.
DCF subcontracts referrals in the Orlando area to Community Based Care of Central Florida, who are the lead community-based care agency – commonly referred to as a ‘CBC’ under Florida’s privatized child welfare parlance – over Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties. Community Based Care of Central Florida, in turn, subcontracts out the case management to GCJFCS, a common practice with the CBCs throughout the state.
The investigation into Arias is ongoing, according to DCF spokeswoman Sims, who said a report would be released as soon as the inquiry concludes.
Florida’s solar industry has embraced a comfortable narrative – they are the small-business “little guys” facing giant corporations, which care little about consumers and renewable energy.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. And it reveals a dark side to sunny solar.
For example, The Daily Caller is reporting on an investigation by the Treasury Department into potential fraud by solar panel companies – many receiving three years of taxpayer cash — in a case that could have “two-and-a-half times” the reach of Solyndra, the scandal that dogged the early years of the Obama administration.
Republicans U.S. Senators are calling on Treasury Inspectors General Eric Thorson and J. Russell George to offer updates on the investigation into solar companies inflating market value of their products to bolster taxpayer funding.
According to a letter to Treasury officials from Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: “The Department recently indicated that applicants included ineligible costs or otherwise overstated the value of their solar energy investments by claiming approximately $1.3 billion in unwarranted cash grants.”
Murkowski and other Republicans have been waiting for results of the investigation, scheduled for release back in June 2015. For more than three years, federal officials investigated potential fraud by solar companies.
“Based on the information available,” Murkowski wrote in November, “we remain concerned that the 1603 cash grant program and the administration of the investment tax credits lack sufficient transparency, oversight and enforcement to protect taxpayers.”
In addition to the Treasury investigation, a recent New York Times article and reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel exposes Florida’s solar industry for what it truly is – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations engaging in highly questionable business practices to prey on consumers.
SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea, a 20-year lease to sign up for its solar panels.
However, SolarCity has employed practices that echo big-bank mortgages that led to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.
Sun Sentinel reporter Ron Hurtibise uncovered other programs throughout South Florida that have cropped up over the past two years, giving consumers, particularly those elderly or disabled,a chance to finance major improvements – such as solar panels – for up to 20 years with no money down and no credit checks.
Unscrupulous contractors target many of these Floridians with promises that solar panel rebates that would “pay for themselves.”
Later, those consumers learn they have been scammed, and are ineligible for such reimbursements.
NYT journalists Danielle Ivory and Diane Cardwell also found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity sent paperwork to the government.
The situation got to the point where Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, an attorney for SolarCity, was forced to file documents with a New York State Court asking for an extension. The company was, as the Times reports, “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”
A statement from SolarCity representatives clarified Gangat’s statement, saying that there were only 139 cases out of “more than 305,000 installed customers.”
Either way, the figures pose a problem: If the attorney (who SolarCity pointed out was not an employee) cited incorrect figures in his filing, he would be subject to ethical disciplinary action. On the other hand, if the number of cases is indeed “in the thousands,” SolarCity – now owned by automaker Tesla – could face a “threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors.”
To consumers, the basic premise of SolarCity is simple, install solar panels and save on electric bills.
The company offers to pick up installation costs, an average of $25,000 to $30,000, and charge customers a flat rate for electricity produced by the panels, usually at rates 10 to 15 percent below that of utilities.
Customers get cheaper power; SolarCity gets regular monthly payments.
But in the past few years, SolarCity lowered requirements for entry into the program – using a cutoff 650 FICO score, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.
As Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian, told the Times: “For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point.”
Relying on a single credit score – one that could change for the worse at almost any time – calls into question SolarCity’s business practices, especially considering the expensive hardware that will be sitting on foreclosed homes, which could number in the hundreds (or even thousands).
Adding to the confusion are courts that will have a difficult time determining the true ownership of installed solar panels.
Of course, SolarCity is not the only solar company facing these problems, but it is one of the largest.
“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” Connecticut attorney Christopher McCormick said. After a decade representing banks, McCormick now works with homeowners facing foreclosure.
“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he told the Times. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”
In addition to McCormick, several groups have formed to educate the public on the dark reality of the solar industry.
One such website – MakeSolarSafe.com – says its goal is to “share the truth about solar energy” and help policymakers make “well-informed energy policy decisions.”
The group reveals the downsides of “net metering,” reimbursements to solar rooftop owners for electricity generation they return to the grid, which results in “a great deal of hidden cost.”
According to the website: “Customers leasing rooftop solar systems are often unaware of additional maintenance costs for which they are responsible. In fact, they are often required to purchase additional maintenance agreements with the company they are leasing from. Average panel cleaning costs can be as much as $20 per panel, costing customers with large photovoltaic systems as much as $700 per year for cleaning.”
Another hidden cost of solar power is the maintenance of the shared electrical grid, by way of increased voltage and stress throughout the power infrastructure.
Since solar energy is by nature intermittent, the introduction of solar-based electricity often causes spikes to the entire system, leaving consumers (including those not using solar) to pay the increased maintenance costs.
Massive solar corporations, questionable business practices, thousands of foreclosures and hidden costs for consumers — it is far from the “little guy” image solar groups such as Southern Alliance for Clean Energy portray the industry in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida.