WUFT News

Marion County Board Member Removed After Facebook Post

By on May 21st, 2015 | Last updated: May 21, 2015 at 2:40 pm

An appointee to Marion County’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has been removed from his position after posting offensive remarks on Facebook.

In a meeting on May 19, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to effectively remove Marcel “Butch” Verrando as an appointee to its advisory board, according to an email from Marion County’s public information manager Barbra Hernández.

Verrando was first appointed to the IDA in June 2011.

The comment, which was part of a thread on a Facebook page called the “Marion County Political Forum,” was posted on May 18.

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Verrando’s most recent controversial comment, which cost him his position. Screencap courtesy of Marion County’s public information manager Barbra Hernández

As a result of the post, Commission Chairman Stan McClain issued a statement that read:

“On behalf of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, I extend my sincerest apologies to all members of our community for the racially and culturally insensitive comments made on social media by an appointee to one of our local advisory boards. Those comments do not represent this board’s nor our dedicated county staff’s views and will not be tolerated. This Commission is committed to treating all citizens equally. All individuals appointed by the Commission to serve on an advisory board are expected to exhibit the highest standards of professionalism in their public conduct, and Mr. Verrando failed to uphold his oath.”

Verrando’s remarks were considered racially insensitive and did not reflect the opinions of the rest of the board, according to McClain.

This also isn’t the first time this Verrando has made controversial remarks.

In August 2014, Verrando issued comments regarding post traumatic stress disorder and veterans on the same forum, according to an email from Hernández. He resigned from his appointment to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Advisory Board shortly after posting these comments.

Although the board hasn’t issued guidelines specifying what can and can’t be posted on social media sites, McClain said the board expects a certain standard of behavior from Marion County officials and appointees.

McClain added that while he thinks it is within everyone’s personal right to say what they believe, the board wants to make sure residents know the commissioners and their staff do not condone these kinds of comments.

“It was despicable in my opinion, and very disturbing to us,” he said. “We treat everybody equal.”

McClain clarified that Verrando, who served on the board as an advisory member, wasn’t employed by the commission. The IDA, the board Verrando was formerly a part of, is responsible for vetting businesses that want to borrow money in order to expand.

“Given the climate of concerns of things that have been happening around the country and individuals believing that they have a right to say insensitive things without any fear of whatever consequences, I’m not surprised,” said Rev. Reginald Willis Sr., the president of the NAACP chapter in Marion County.

“However, I would like to say I’m appreciative that the county commission moved swiftly to remove (the) individual who knowingly has made insensitive comments as it relates to race and inequity within the county,” he added.

Erin Hart, the managing director of Spitfire Strategies, a public interest communication firm, weighed in on the actions she feels should be taken to “repair” the damage the post may have caused.

She said it is essential to train staff to be more empathetic, and while a single statement is traditional, it isn’t sufficient.

“This is a very human issue that deserves more than that,” Hart said.

“They should be having conversations internally with their staff about why that point of view is unacceptable and helping them to understand different points of view,” she said.

“Externally, they should be engaging with community organizations and individuals who are interested in the conversation to say, ‘This isn’t our stance and this is the kind of conversation we want to have.’”

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Police Union Raises Concerns Of Safety Issues At Local Homeless Community

By on May 21st, 2015 | Last updated: May 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm

 

As the number of residents living at Dignity Village increases, so do concerns for the safety of both residents and emergency responders.

In response to a letter written by the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) to Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy, City Manager Russ Blackburn and Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, a meeting held Tuesday addressed the concerns and dangers inherent with the continued operation of Dignity Village.

The community, located off Northeast 39th Avenue next to Grace Marketplace, is home to an estimated 250 homeless people. Most residents sleep in tents in the immediate surrounding area.

According to the letter, there is a “growing danger for Gainesville citizens, the occupants of the village and emergency service personnel.”  Arrests for violent crimes, drug dealing, prostitution and methamphetamine production create safety issues for those living in the area as well as those responding to the cases.

“At this location right now, it is kind of a free-for-all as far as who is moving out there. People are setting up electrical areas, generators, chords running in the ground, some people are building permanent structures,” Mike Schibuola, a union representative for the local chapter of the PBA who also works for GPD, said

These concerns were heightened in April after a stabbing incident within the community just twelve hours before a similar event involving a machete.

“Unfortunately we hear about a lot of the problems, so we do know that there have been some attacks and some violent episodes, as well as some other antisocial behavior that has become very problematic,” Braddy said in an interview after the meeting. “We are aware of it and are trying to address it by increasing police presence, perhaps having a defined presence in the area of police officers as opposed to having them just respond to calls.”

Although incidents continue to occur daily, hope to decrease these numbers remains.

“Right now when this problem is early in its infancy, you can take steps to kind of fix it and get it where it needs to go before it gets to this huge issue that you can’t fix,” Schibuola said.

The matter of who has jurisdiction to enforce laws on the 10-acre plot of land has been an issue in the past, but recent changes make it possible for the City of Gainesville to regulate the land.

“As of May 7th, we have taken jurisdictional control of it through a lease with the state,”Braddy said. “It is still the state’s property but we have the ability to promulgate rules and enforce those rules, so that is what we are going to try to do now.”

 

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UF Health Plans For Future

By on May 21st, 2015 | Last updated: May 21, 2015 at 2:06 pm

If two heads are better than one, then 22,000 minds can lead to exceptional progress.

Officials from University of Florida Health met Wednesday afternoon to reveal a five-year plan that will improve facilities, bring the healthcare community together and enhance the overall mission of achieving a national leadership position in research and quality patient care.​

Dr. David S. Guzick, the senior vice president for Health Affairs at UF and the president of UF Health, discusses the future of UF Health after leading the announcement ceremony at the  UF Health Shands Hospital Atrium on Wednesday afternoon.

Dr. David Guzick, the senior vice president for Health Affairs at UF and the president of UF Health, discusses the future of UF Health after leading the announcement ceremony at the UF Health Shands Hospital Atrium on Wednesday afternoon.       Ashley Lombardo / WUFT News

In May 2010, UF Health published a strategic plan called Forward Together. The new plan, Power of Together, will build on the success of its forerunner by having more than 150 research experts and faculty members come together to provide area-specific contributions.

The plan will focus on space, infrastructure, global health, research training, metrics, cross-campus research, IFAS – UF Health collaboration and public-private partnerships. It will use state funds to advance clinical research, discovery and technology in the commercialization of healthcare.

The plan will also improve educational and community outreach programs while training future leaders and expanding the overall impact of UF Health.

Preeminence is a principal target, but providing the highest standard of patient care remains at the top of the list.

The original operation was led by Dr. David Guzick, the senior vice president for Health Affairs at UF and the president of UF Health. Guzick spoke at the conference.

“From a clinical standpoint, we believe we are the destination hospital for Florida, but now we’ve become the destination hospital for the Southeast,” he said.

“So we really want to be prominent as a go-to place if you have a serious condition, in addition to serving our local community.”

Voncea Brusha, a registered nurse in the mother baby unit and one of the speakers at the announcement ceremony, has worked at UF Health for 45 years.

Brusha said her fondest memory was when she ran into a woman whose baby she delivered many years ago. The woman recognized her as the nurse who had also delivered her granddaughter.

That day, the woman was in the hospital for the delivery of her great-granddaughter.

“I take pride in working for an organization where patients and our community are the focus,” she said. “So many things have changed during my time here, but not the depth of care that we provide to our patients.”

Forward Together facilitated the creation of new facilities, such as UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital, the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital and UF Health North in Jacksonville.

The first strategic plan was meant to bring professionals together to move medicine forward. But now that a foundation has been built and momentum has been created, Guzick plans to accelerate it.

UF Health includes six different medical colleges, and the plan will focus on having enrolled students work as a team during the learning process.

“We want to actually become a national model for interprofessional education,” Guzick said.

“During the first five years, we made some steps in that direction, but we haven’t gotten there yet, and that’s something we really want to work on in the next five years.”

David Casey, an employee at UF Health for 23 years and one of its patients, illustrated an unique outlook on the center’s breakthroughs.

Although Casey continues to fight cancer, he was treated at UF Health for Hepatitis C and cured.

“I went for many, many years without a cure,” Casey said. “Our researchers and doctors here kept their hearts and minds open and took advantage of international opportunities and brought them to our campus.”

Guzick said he is proud of how far UF Health has come. He knows all goals are connected and the culture of the community will lead to the optimization of resources that UF Health has been given.

“It’s been a great five years,” he said, closing the ceremony. “Here’s to the next five years. ”

 

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Breaking News: Feds Say Florida Could Get $1B For Low Income Pool

By on May 21st, 2015 | Last updated: May 21, 2015 at 12:55 pm

May 21, 2015

A top federal official told Florida it can likely expect $1 billion in the budget year that begins July 1 for a key health-care program known as the Low Income Pool, according to a letter dated Thursday. That would amount to about half of the amount the state currently receives. “We note that this level of funding for the LIP, coupled with the options the state may elect at its discretion described in this letter, would enable Florida to retain Medicaid investment in the state at or above the current $2.16 billion level of LIP funding,” said the letter from Vikki Wachino, director of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The News Service will have a full report later Thursday.

–END–
5/21/2015

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In The News: Sen. Paul Speaks 11 Hours, CVS To Acquire Omnicare, U.S. And Cuba Meet About Ties, Aunt Mourns FSU Student, Man Injured By Police Car

By , and on May 21st, 2015 | Last updated: May 21, 2015 at 12:06 pm
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Alachua County Schools Receive $1.2 Million

By on May 20th, 2015 | Last updated: May 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Gov. Rick Scott awarded a check for $1,277,312 to 20 schools in the county for improved or continued student achievement on Tuesday at Stephen Foster Elementary School.

The award is a part of the Florida School Recognition Program. The program awards schools that have an A grade, have increased a grade or are marked as improving. The criteria is determined by the Florida Department of Education.

Scott said that Stephen Foster will receive a $46,000 cut of the check for maintaining an A status.

“You should feel very good about yourselves,” Scott said.

Scott announced in February that a total of $124 million would be distributed this year to schools across the state.

Each school will decide how the funds will be used, according to the press release from the Governor’s office. The award can cover staff bonuses, finance classroom equipment and provide money for extra staff to help students.

Students and faculty attended the presentation along with Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Owen Roberts and Mayor Ed Braddy. About 40 students stood behind Scott as he discussed the importance of investing in education.

Roberts said he is focused on improving education and helping students pursue their career interests. He set a five-year goal to achieve a 100 percent on-time graduation rate.

“We are taking Alachua County to the next level,” Roberts said.

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May 20, 2015: News in 90

By on May 20th, 2015 | Last updated: May 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm


Taylor Anderson produced this update.

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Community Leaders Sign Education Compact

By on May 20th, 2015 | Last updated: May 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Twenty-one local leaders signed the Alachua County Education Compact on Monday, which hopes to create better opportunities for students and schools.

“The Alachua County Education Compact signals our community’s commitment to outcomes now and over the long term that will measurably benefit our kids,” said Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Giuliani.

The compact focuses on early childhood education, parent education, higher education, workforce development and career preparedness. It aims to form a centralized community effort to prepare students for college by helping them establish business connections and develop healthy lifestyles.

Coordinating the efforts of business, government, community and education leaders to create opportunities for students graduating from high school and entering the work force has been in discussion since 2013.

“Schools are the lifeblood in the community and until all Alachua County students and school children have access to school readiness and career opportunities, we all have work to do,” said University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs.

A stewardship committee of signers will identify the compact’s strategies and accountability measures. Ian Fletcher, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of workforce development, estimates that these will be established no later than October.

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Alachua County School Board Passes Rezoning Plan That Will Dissolve Waldo Community School

By on May 20th, 2015 | Last updated: May 27, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Children cried and hugged their parents outside of the Kirby-Smith boardroom Tuesday night.

This came after the Alachua County School Board voted unanimously on a rezoning plan that will consolidate Waldo Community School with Shell Elementary School.

The plan will not only dissolve the Waldo school zone and expand Shell’s, but also require the busing of approximately 200 Waldo students to Shell Elementary in Hawthorne next year.

Debbie Powell consoles her grandchildren in wake of the decision.

Debbie Powell consoles her grandchildren in wake of the decision. Ryan Nelson / WUFT News

At the meeting in the Kirby-Smith Boardroom many Waldo residents spoke out against the measure. Whole families attended, most wearing white T-shirts with S.O.S. written on them for “Save Our School.”

Some attendees spoke about financial issues being the primary factor for the school closure. The board members disagreed.

“This is not all about finances, it’s about teaching our kids,” Paulson said.

The Florida Association District School Superintendents reviewed the district’s finances and recommended consolidating small and under-enrolled schools, according to the agenda summary.

By consolidating the schools the county expects to save $475,000, said Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools.

Superintendent Owen Roberts said he didn’t take the decision lightly and kept the larger picture in mind.

“This problem was not created over night,” Roberts said. “I’m going to do what’s right for all the children.”

John Dukes’s III father was the past superintendent. He spoke in favor of the consolidation and reminded Waldo residents that this wasn’t the first time the county has closed a school.

“Waldo closed because of numbers. It wasn’t sustainable,” Dukes said. “I believe (Roberts) made the best decision that was available to him.”

April Griffin sympathized, saying she had been through this situation before. The board member lost both her middle school and her high school as a result of rezoning.

“For the people who say we don’t care – we care,” Griffin said.

Board member Gunnar Paulson proposed an amendment that would have given Waldo residents more time to prepare for the school’s closure. He proposed to give the school another year and for the board to reconsider the vote for closure.

The amendment failed unanimously.

Louie Davis, mayor of Waldo, and most of his large family showed up at the meeting wearing S.O.S. shirts. Davis wanted to see Paulson’s amendment pass to allow Waldo more time to improve and get better. But he said he came already feeling defeated.

“They had already made up their mind and written out their statements. There was little we could have done to change it,” Davis said.

Laura Dedenbach, Waldo city planner, criticized the board for not upholding the interlocal agreement, which requires the district to give more notice before any potential closure plans are made.

“Over the last two months Waldo, its parents, children, residents and business owners have tried mightily to implore you (the board) to slow the process down,” Dedenbach said.

Immediately after the measure was passed 5-0 most of the audience stood and left as the board continued with the agenda.

Camara Casson, a sophomore at Eastside High School who went to Waldo and whose grandmother is a teacher there, was disheartened by the board’s decision.

“It’s a crying shame,” Casson said. “I know that there was more that could have been done for the school.”

 

Samantha Sosa contributed to this report.

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Gov. Rick Scott’s Hospital Commission To Meet For First Time

By on May 20th, 2015 | Last updated: May 20, 2015 at 12:37 pm


MIAMI (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott’s new hospital commission consists of Republican donors and business leaders who will likely help him go after some of the state’s hospitals as the standoff over Medicaid expansion intensifies.

The panel, which will meet for the first time Wednesday, is beginning its work as the governor has become increasingly antagonistic toward hospitals that receive taxpayer funds in the face of a $1 billion hole in his budget.

Scott wants the federal government to extend the hospital funds, known as the low-income pool, which helps hospitals that care for Medicaid and uninsured patients. But the Obama administration and the hospitals want the Republican governor to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians, arguing it’s more efficient to use the money to give people insurance than to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured retroactively.

The standoff between Scott and the Obama administration has also caused a mess in the state Legislature. Scott and Republican House leaders remain adamantly opposed to taking any money tied to so-called “Obamacare,” including Medicaid expansion. The federal government would foot the bill for the first few years and then pay 90 percent after that – a far more generous deal than the 60-40 split in the current Medicaid program.

Scott says Medicaid expansion would cost the state $5 billion over 10 years. But even if the Obama administration agrees to extend the hospitals funds, it would still cost the state $9 billion in matching funds over 10 years, yet not a single person would have gained health insurance.

The governor is suing the Obama administration over Medicaid expansion, but with the federal government showing no signs of backing down, Scott has turned his attention to hospitals, creating a panel to examine their finances which does not include any health care executives.

The staunchly conservative governor, a former CEO of a for-profit hospital chain, wants the hospitals to share profits with each other and has asked his panel to examine hospital profits, including salaries, bonuses and lobbying expenses.

It’s unclear how much impact the panel will have as the Legislature reconvenes for a special session June 1 and must approve a new budget by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown. The head of the commission is a real estate developer and heavy donor to Scott’s political campaign and the Republican Party. It’s also the second time Scott has convened a hospital panel since taking office – the first commission didn’t accomplish much.

“I think (Scott’s) looking for the report to say that we somehow or other need more medical care. He’s an advocate of competition and de-regulation,” said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association.

While consumer choice might work in food and other industries, excessive competition in health care raises prices and jeopardizes the quality of care because the infrastructure is so costly. If you don’t have a sufficient volume of patients, then the unit price goes up. You don’t want a trauma team that’s idle five days a week, said Quick, who testified before Scott’s first panel.

“Part of what (the governor) was looking to see last time was whether these tax supported institutions were somehow mismanaged, inefficient, or abusing their public government ownership status … but (the first commission) couldn’t find anything.”

Critics have accused the governor of punishing hospitals who have spoken out on the issue. He sent a letter last week asking UF Health Jacksonville why it was more reliant on the low-income pool funds than other hospitals and encouraged them to consider partnering with more profitable medical centers in the area.

CEO Russ Armistead, whose hospitals stand to lose $95 million, warned the Legislature he’d have to close in a few months without Medicaid expansion and the loss of low-income pool funds.

Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown told Scott that the hospital, which is in her district, would not close under her watch.

“The letter is an attempt to distract from the fact that he has not only failed to provide critical healthcare to millions of Floridians, but opposes members of his own party in the Senate who have developed a common sense plan to address the needs of these vulnerable citizens.”

Hospital officials say they need the hospital funds and expanded Medicaid to survive and urged the governor to adopt a Senate plan that would eventually privatize Medicaid just like the state’s current program for 3 million Medicaid recipients.

“You have suggested that a new tax on hospital operating surpluses might be a way to sustain the existing LIP program. Such an arrangement is not a solution to the challenge we face,” according to a statement from the Florida Hospital association signed by nearly two dozen hospital heads.

“As more Floridians are covered, this approach allows our state to reduce its dependence over time, on a supplemental funding pool.”

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