Gov. Rick Scott’s hypocrisy on open records at the VA & DCF

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Governor Rick Scott deserves some credit for being one of the loudest critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the scandal at the Veterans Administration.

Last week, Scott announced the state of Florida is suing the VA to grant state health inspectors access to VA hospitals. For more than a month, the Obama administration denied state health inspectors access, setting the stage for a protracted court battle.

Scott — probably correctly — points out that state health inspectors could have discovered the fraud and mistreatment of veterans before the scandal, neglect of veterans, and resulting veterans’ deaths became so widespread.

“Transparency and accountability are critical to supporting our veterans, and this suit will fight the federal VA’s continued practice of stonewalling our inspectors,” said Gov. Scott in a press statement last week.

As part of his criticism of the Obama administration, Gov. Scott was one of the first elected officials to call for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after the federal agency’s Office of Inspector General released an initial report finding that delayed medical care, as well as efforts to hide records, was “systemic” throughout the veterans’ health system.

“To date, Sec. Shinseki has refused to step down, our inspectors continue to be turned away, and none of the information we’ve asked for has been provided,” Scott said last week.

What finally did in Shinseki was the accusation that the VA altered records to indicate that wait times were shorter than they actually were in order to cover-up malfeasance that led to veterans’ deaths.

If that accusation proves true, Scott was correct to call for Shinseki to step down.

One question remains:

Will Governor Scott be as vocal about the scandal at his Department of Children and Families as he has been the scandal at the VA?

According to Carol Marbin Miller via a blog post from Mary Ellen Klas, last November, the Miami Herald was finishing a tally of Florida child abuse and neglect deaths among families that had previously come to the attention of DCF. The count was undertaken as part of a project called Innocents Lost. To track the number of dead children, which soared to new heights in recent years, reporters relied on public records, including incident reports.

Documents obtained after Innocents Lost was published show that starting at least as early as last November, as the Herald was grilling DCF on its problems in preventing the deaths of children under its watch, one branch of the agency deliberately kept as many as 30 deaths off the books — ensuring they would not be included in the published tally.

It remains unclear if the missing records were a deliberate attempt to obscure the deaths or suppress numbers in a series of articles emphasizing DCF mistakes.

“I am not certain yet,” new DCF secretary Mike Carroll tells the Herald. “I hope that’s not the case. I have made it clear to folks that we are not in the business of hiding information.”

In an effort to clarify, Carroll said Southeast Region administrators ceased filing the required reports for a minimum of five months while developing new reporting tools. These so-called “phantom deaths” began sometime after the end of September 2013.

As part of its reporting, the Herald learned that Leslie Chytka, a DCF child abuse and quality assurance specialist, wrote in an agency email April 2 outlining 30 child deaths without corresponding incident reports — a violation of DCF rules requiring reports to be completed “within one working day” of a child’s death.

She then instructed staff in the Southeast Region to file reports for each of the 30 deaths, of which they were done quickly. Subsequent accounts detail “many prior” incidents where the agency was involved with the families of the dead children.

Regardless of the explanation put forth by the DCF, it is clear that the agency altered records in an attempt to cover up a scandal, you know, like what allegedly happened at the VA.

Governor Scott was out front in his criticism of the VA, yet he is silent today about DCF.

How is it that Rick Scott can call for Shinseki’s resignation because the VA altered damning treatment records but Scott is not demanding the resignation of his own DCF secretary when that agency altered records to hide child deaths?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.