It seems like just yesterday that my kids were born. I have so many happy memories from that time, but I also remember the very real fear that came with losing income while I stayed home with my brand new babies.
This is why I'm proud to share that the parental leave policy I have championed for years has now been approved by our County Commission. Palm Beach County employees with at least one year of service will receive six weeks of leave, concurrent with Family Medical Leave (FMLA), at 100% of the employee’s base salary for the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child.
If you support family leave, please join my campaign team!
Welcoming a new child into the family should be a joyous occasion. I'm thrilled that we are doing our part to make sure our employees have this security during such a critical time.
These are the kinds of policies I fight for every day as your Commissioner, and they are the reason I am running for re-election. We have so much more to do, and I hope I can count on your support.
As Palm Beach County’s chief circuit judge, Jeffrey Colbath has had a courtroom view of the opioid epidemic’s toll on society during the past few years.
He also is aware that local leaders have pleaded to Gov. Rick Scott for help to curb the crisis, only to be ignored.
That’s why Colbath decided to write his own letter to Scott, asking the governor to declare a public-health emergency to fight the epidemic.
“I don’t imagine he’s getting a lot of letters from chief judges. Hopefully it will at least cause him to pause a little longer and rethink it,” Colbath said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.
Colbath’s letter, dated March 17, is similar to requests sent to Scott since February from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Wellington Village Council and the Martin County Commission.
“I am writing to you with deep and growing concern over the deadly impact the opioid epidemic is having on our state. As chief judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, I have witnessed how this escalating problem has particularly impacted Palm Beach County,’’ Colbath wrote.
“I request that you declare a public health emergency to marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”
The area’s drug treatment industry draws addicts from throughout the country, many of whom relapse and overdose in Palm Beach County. Stories in The Palm Beach Post have drawn attention to the problem and a recent law enforcement crackdown on industry practices and questionable operators has netted more than two dozen arrests.
Colbath, first elected to the bench in 1992, said “judges in the trenches” have seen an uptick in cases from the opioid epidemic. The victims and defendants come from all demographics, he said.
“It’s not just the poor or the easily ignored disenfranchised member of our community. It’s everybody,” he said.
Colbath said he hasn’t received a reply from Scott, and he’s not sure if he ever will. But he hopes his letter might catch the attention of someone in Scott’s administration and perhaps result in more money and resources to local communities.
“I do appreciate that it’s not the norm that a chief judge would write such a letter. But it’s an appropriate exercise of this office to call upon the governor to help out, to put this higher up on the priority list. It’s just the right thing do to,” Colbath told The Post.
In an email, Scott’s press secretary said the governor has received Colbath’s. “Governor Scott understands this is an important national issue and has spoken to the Trump administration about it,” the press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said.
She denied that Scott has ignored requests for help from local leaders. She said the governor’s proposed budget includes $2 million for “local law enforcement to conduct investigations related to heroin abuse.”
Colbath’s letter mentioned the 551 deaths from overdoses of all types tallied by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office for the first 11 months of 2016.
“The statistics for 2016 are grim,’’ he wrote. “The death toll, once December’s numbers are in, (is) expected to approach or even exceed 600 deaths.’’
Colbath’s letter also mentioned the costs to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue: at least $1,500 to respond to each overdose call. “The emotional toll to them, furthermore, is incalculable,’’ he said.
“Our county and municipalities are bearing the brunt of these costs. Businesses are being harmed; families are being devastated. … We are doing what we can at the local level, but our resources are limited.’’
Although Colbath’s letter cited local statistics, he said the epidemic has spread beyond Palm Beach County:
“This is a statewide problem that requires a statewide response,’’ he wrote.
Circuit Judge Krista Marx, who in recent years has presided over drug court and this summer will take over as chief judge, praised Colbath’s decision to write to Scott.
“That just speaks to the level this has reached,” Marx said, referring to the opioid crisis.
“Anybody who sits on the criminal bench will tell you our drug cases, and, of late, the heroin cases, are the engine that runs our criminal justice system, even if (defendants) are not specifically charged with a drug crime it’s so inextricably intertwined with other crimes.”
Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus also have sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public-health emergency.
Colbath agreed to talk about the letter after The Post obtained a copy and published a blog about it Tuesday morning. He said he had received messages of thanks from criminal justice employees after news of his letter appeared in The Insider blog on The Post’s website.
“I didn’t do some big press release about the letter. Maybe I should be little more public about it,” he said.
By Joe Capozzi
A group of elected leaders representing Palm Beach County’s 39 municipalities has joined other public officials in seeking state help to fight the opioid epidemic.
By a 16-0 vote, the governing board of the Palm Beach County League of Cities approved a resolution Wednesday asking Gov. Rick Scott “to declare a state of emergency over the opioid epidemic.”
The league’s resolution was passed a day after Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath publicly called on Scott to declare a public health emergency.
“I just feel that it’s important that we try to fight this head on with as many resources as we can,’’ said Ilan Kaufer, the vice mayor for Jupiter, who proposed the resolution.
“I’m sure the governor understands this is a serious issue and I’m hopeful he will provide the state with the resources to save more lives.’’
Aside from the county’s League of Cities and Colbath, other public officials and agencies who have asked Scott to declare a health emergency over the epidemic include Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Village of Wellington and the Martin County Commission.
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig was among the 16 members who supported the league’s resolution – even though she refused to sign the village’s council’s letter to Scott earlier this month.
Gerwig said she would have signed the village council letter if it had been worded differently and discussed first in public.
Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus have also sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public health emergency.
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay has asked Governor Rick Scott to follow the lead of other governors in the United States and declare a public health emergency in Florida to help local communities deal with the opioid epidemic.
“Although day after day we are battling this crisis as hard as we can with our limited resources, local government cannot solve this crisis on our own,’’ she wrote.
“By making this declaration, the state would not only help raise awareness of the epidemic, but it would provide expanded options to combat it.”
McKinlay’s letter mentioned a recent Palm Beach Post report that showed heroin-related hospital costs in Florida had reached more than $1 billion in 2015 — $4.1 million a day. And the costs are believed to be rising, right along with the number of overdoses and deaths.
She also cited Florida Department of Law Enforcement numbers showing a nearly 80 percent increase in heroin deaths and a 77 percent increase in fentanyl deaths in Florida from 2014 to 2015.
“I welcome the opportunity to discuss additional ways that the state may join forces with its local governments in fighting this deadly crisis that is robbing families of their loved ones,’’ she said.
In 2016, more than 500 people died of opioid overdoses in Palm Beach County, she wrote. That number, reported this past week by the State Attorney’s Office at a local sober-home task force meeting, could include drugs beyond heroin, fentanyl and illicit morphine, the drugs considered in a Palm Beach Post investigation that found 216 deaths in 2015.
McKinlay’s letter pointed out that Virginia in 2016 and Massachusetts in 2014 declared public health emergencies after heroin deaths rose sharply in those states.
McKinlay, a Democrat, sent the letter Tuesday. She had not heard back from Scott, a Republican, as of Thursday.
“He has the authority to take limited action until the Legislature can pass legislation and his agencies can get rules and programs in place,” she said. “We have a gap where we need something in the meantime. Too many kids and too many Floridians are dying every day.”
There is a precedent in Florida for calling a drug addiction crisis a public-health emergency. Gov. Scott did just that in 2011, at the height of the OxyContin “pill mill” crisis, which was killing as many as seven Floridians a day.
He instructed the Department of Health to declare a public-health emergency, and that, in turn, gave the department wide-ranging latitude to rein in suspect clinics and pharmacies, including reactivating the inactive licenses of doctors.
Precisely what a declaration by the governor can do appears to vary widely. For instance, when Scott declared Zika a public health emergency in 2016 after nine confirmed cases — but no deaths — the declaration specifically instructed certain counties to focus on spraying in residential areas.
McKinlay, in an interview, offered examples of how a declaration by Scott can help local communities.
In Massachusetts in 2014, she said, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency that allowed him emergency powers to expand access to naloxone, a drug that revives overdosing addicts; mandate that physicians and pharmacies monitor prescriptions; and require the state’s Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention to make recommendations on further actions within 60 days.
Patrick also issued a public health advisory to raise awareness and he immediately banned the opiate Zohydro from being prescribed until authorities were confident safeguard measures were in place.
“Finally, he announced a commitment of an additional $20 million to increase drug treatment services,” McKinlay said.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s declaration allowed all Virginians to obtain naloxone without a prescription and created increased urgency and public awareness of the epidemic.
Speaking to The Post in January, Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben said, “There is no question that this is a medical — a public health — emergency.”
As for a formal declaration, he said, “It is not so important what you call it as the fact that it is recognized, that you understand the consequences so that you can take appropriate measures” — especially access to treatment.
Treatment takes money. And Gov. Rick Scott’s newly unveiled $83.5 billion budget slashes Medicaid payments to hospitals and cuts reimbursements to hospitals treating the uninsured.
Yet some of the financial burdens of the state’s perennially cash-strapped Medicaid program are a result of untreated addiction.
Take Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Between 2010 and 2015, NAS was a $967 million statewide problem for hospitals, The Post found, and five of every six dollars were billed to Medicaid. A single brain-damaged baby’s 440-day hospitalization cost $11.8 million. Care for a girl born in Palm Beach County totaled $4.2 million. Medicaid got the bills.
In all, $3.9 billion of $5.7 billion in heroin-related hospital bills went to Florida Medicaid in a six-year period ending in 2015.
Simply cutting reimbursements might give Medicaid some financial breathing room, but unpaid charges are typically passed on to insurers and paying customers.
McKinlay and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio are hosting a meeting Feb. 22 of families who have lost loved ones to the drug crisis.
The meeting, which will be held at the Palm Beach County Library on Summit Boulevard, was set in motion by McKinlay in November after the adult daughter of her then-chief aide died of an overdose following a long battle with addiction.
Tasha McCraw, daughter of former aide Johnnie Easton, died Nov. 18, just two days before The Post published Heroin: Killer of a generation, which included profiles of 216 people who died of heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015.
By Joe Capozzi and Pat Beall
The Very Best Idea in Florida Right This Minute comes from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who is asking Gov. Rick Scott to call Florida’s heroin epidemic by its right name: a public health crisis.
This should be a no-brainer for Scott. With heroin-related hospital bills running at close to a billion a year in Florida, a governor who made millions as a hospital executive and reportedly aspires to higher office should take the state’s opioid addiction problem at least as seriously as McKinlay’s hometown newspaper.
For over two years, The Palm Beach Post has relentlessly pursued the hydra-headed heroin story. The Post has a disproportionate share of Florida’s best print, database, digital and visual journalists, and just about all of them have been deployed to expose the dark underside of the county’s booming medical tourism industry.
Fraudsters figured out how easy it was to get hapless insurance companies to pay tens of thousands of dollars for unnecessary urine testing in the county’s burgeoning “sober home” industry.
It was a short hop from insurance fraud to illegal patient brokering. It was only a matter of time before addicts who had come to Florida in good faith with a hope of getting well were forced into prostitution and dying of overdoses.
Florida politicians and policymakers are locked into a 14th century “understanding” of addiction, and The Post continues to pour its heart and soul into shifting the paradigm. Day by day and document by document, the paper pursues the bad guys and educates the public and public officials.
The Post’s reporting provided a wake-up call and a road map for police and prosecutors. State Attorney David Aronberg‘s Sober Home Task Force has made 21 arrests, and more are on the way.
In 2015, your chances of sudden death by heroin-related overdose in Palm Beach County was higher than the risk of death by homicide or traffic accident. Post reporters studied the autopsies, spoke with brokenhearted survivors of Palm Beach County’s 216 heroin victims, and issued a riveting special report called Heroin: Killer of a Generation.
Scott should read it as he considers McKinlay’s request. Bodies are piling up in the morgue located just eight minutes away from the winter White House; some have families and friends who read newspapers and vote.
by Florence Snyder
It is no secret I have taken a leadership role in addressing the horrific opioid/heroin overdose crisis. We are losing too many of our family members, friends and neighbors. I will not stop until our government leaders take serious action.
As Florence Snyder wrote last month for Florida Politics:
The Very Best Idea in Florida Right This Minute comes from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who is asking Gov. Rick Scott to call Florida’s heroin epidemic by its right name: a public health crisis. This should be a no-brainer for Scott.
And in a follow-up piece from this week:
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay was the first public official to urge Scott to call Florida’s heroin epidemic by its right name: a public health crisis. That was, and remains, the Very Best Idea in Florida Right This Minute, and McKinlay’s choir is, thankfully, growing.
I am very grateful my request received the support of Palm Beach County’s Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath and every one of Palm Beach County's 39 cities this week, joining the Martin County Commission in this effort and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus.
The opioid epidemic has grown unabated because it has been in the shadows. But when we make the effort to shine a light on a problem that affects so many of our friends, neighbors, and family members, we are not only advocating for the responsible thing, but the right thing.
Thanks for all of your support,
Three years ago, I decided to step up to serve our community by seeking a seat on the County Commission. It was a tough campaign, but my tireless grassroots team, common sense policy proposals - and of course smart campaign strategy - pushed us over the top.
Because you played a key role in that 2014 victory, I wanted you to be the first to know that I have decided to seek re-election to the Palm Beach County District 6 Commission seat. Working together, we can win again.
As you know, I have taken a common sense approach to dealing with our challenges, and it makes all the difference. While division grows nationally, my collaborative leadership approach is getting real results right here at home.
I am proud that my hard work is earning respect not just at the county level, but statewide as well. With the help of my colleagues, I am in position to be Mayor in November and I also have their support to run for the President of the Florida Association of Counties. I have worked hard to have an open door to leadership on both sides of the aisle in Tallahassee so I may best serve the people of Palm Beach County.
Together, we are making government more efficient and responsive. But there is more work to do, and I need to win re-election to continue that progress. In order to fund the initial needs of our campaign, it is important that we raise $38,000 by April 30. Will you help me reach our goal?
When I ran for my first term, I promised to prioritize much needed infrastructure improvements, economic development, and workforce training programs to the Glades community. I also pledged to provide a sense of civility, integrity and honesty to public service, and to represent the voices of our community's hardworking families by keeping neighborhoods safe and our children secure.
I kept my promises.
Today, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in critical improvements for road, water, housing, education, and flood control projects. We have seen the Army Corps of Engineers fully authorize the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs, Zone 1 project completion, and the replacement of culverts from Belle Glade to Lake Harbor get underway. We have new road reconstruction and repavement, and have implemented fast-tracked replacement of old rusty water pipes through a state-local funding partnership in the Glades.
To improve regional options for higher learning and hands-on technical training to strengthen our local economy, the doors at the Loxahatchee Groves campus of Palm Beach State College recently opened and West Tech in the Glades continues to grow its construction academy to serve both high school students and adults. And to improve public safety in our Western Communities, construction planning of a new fire station in the Acreage is underway.
Traffic and development pressures are not going away, so I successfully advocated for traffic safety studies by the Florida Department of Transportation along our major roadway corridors, and I am pushing for sidewalks, lighting, school zone signage, and shoulder improvements. Because we know better than Tallahassee how to best manage local development, I continue to fight against the State Legislature's erosion of home rule authority, especially in the area of growth management.
It is no secret I have taken a leadership role on addressing the horrific opioid/heroin overdose crisis. Did you know we lost nearly 600 lives in Palm Beach County alone in 2016? A recent request to the Governor's office to declare a public health crisis has gone unanswered, but my advocacy in memory of my former aide Johnnie Easton's daughter has resulted in a new sense of urgency in our state from leaders across the board to address this epidemic.
Being a mom with kids in our public schools facing many of the same challenges my constituents face keeps me grounded and connected to the needs of our community. I hope you will support me as I seek a second term to continue to represent you.
Please help keep me leading the way by sending your generous contribution today. Any amount - $50, $150, $500, up to the $1000 per person/business contribution limit - will help us reach our goal. As always, I will use every dollar to advance an efficient, results driven effort to achieve a win for all of us next year!
Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions, thoughts, and your good ideas. I feel blessed to be able to serve you and the residents of Palm Beach County each day.
In grateful service,
P.S. I know you have many commitments, but this is an important time to show potential challengers that we are up to the task – and that you are on my side. Please take a moment to send your generous contribution today so we can keep moving our community forward – together.
“Whose child has to die before somebody does something?”
That was the question my former aide, Johnnie Easton, asked me shortly after I was elected. It was one of what would become many sleepless nights she had to call me to tell me she would be late because she was out searching the streets for her daughter, Tasha.
In mid-November of 2016, she got the answer to that question. Hers.
Since that horrible day in November when she called to tell me Tasha had been found on the floor dead of a suspected overdose in a kitchen in some faraway apartment, I have lived with the guilt. Why didn’t I do something sooner?
I believe there is a public perception that we are doing something. We all see the billboards, the television advertisements for drug rehab centers. They are so glamorous in South Florida. Oceanfront estates and equestrian spreads for those fighting addiction. Places their loved ones can send them to miraculously get better in 30 days.
Or the other side of the issue. The homeless person on the street who seems intoxicated. I believe most people think that someone else will take care of that person – like law enforcement or a homeless center. Surely in a county as affluent as Palm Beach County, these services are abundant. And easy to find.
Wrong. On both accounts.
Nothing about addiction is glamorous. Nothing about rehab centers in South Florida is glamorous. Nothing is free. And those that are publicly funded are in such short supply that we could never possibly meet the demand of those in need.
This is what happened to Tasha. She asked for help. There were no beds. Apply for Medicaid they told her. As if figuring out that paperwork for a sober person wasn’t difficult enough, try doing it high on heroin. Or do what some do to get help – threaten to kill yourself and pray you get Baker Acted, Florida’s forced mental health commitment statute. Or, even better, do what some parents have been forced to pray for at times – get arrested. Then, maybe just then, you can get some drug treatment in the Palm Beach County Jail.
This is not how we treat people in America. All people – regardless of illness – deserve immediate medical attention when facing a medical crisis. They deserve that treatment to be safe, affordable, humane, and dignified. And we need to speak up and demand it from our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee, our doctors, insurance companies, the treatment industry and local leaders like me.
I recently held a community conversation on this crisis because I wanted to hear from the families. Families are demanding to be heard. Take the time to listen to them. They offer the best hope at gaining insight to a preventable epidemic. One mother told a story about her son saying to her, “Mom, I thought I was a piece of garbage because they treated me like a piece of garbage.”
Our friends, family members, neighbors are not trash. They are people. And they need help.
Please tell Gov. Rick Scott this is a public health emergency. We need his leadership, the state’s resources and our decision-makers to lend a hand so we can defeat this enemy that is killing our children.
Do it for Tasha. Don’t make her death in vain.
by Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay is the new chair of the Solid Waste Authority’s governing board.
County commissioners who sit as the authority board selected McKinlay Wednesday morning at their regular meeting. The vote was 7-0.
The board then selected as officers two new commissioners; Mack Bernard as vice chair and Dave Kerner as secretary.
Mayor Paulette Burdick had nominated Bernard as authority chair but there was no second. Mary Lou Berger then nominated McKinlay.
McKinlay has been the authority board’s vice chair. She succeeds Hal Valeche, who also has been county vice mayor. By tradition, the county commission’s vice mayor heads the authority’s governing board.
Meetings of the governing board are held every other month at Authority headquarters, 7501 Jog Road, West Palm Beach. Call 561-640-4000 or visit www.swa.org.
by Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach County commissioners have their committee and board assignments for 2017, with the commission’s newest members – Dave Kerner and Mack Bernard – getting spots on the Criminal Justice Commission and the Homeless Advisory Board, respectively.
In addition to serving on the Criminal Justice Commission, Kerner, who succeeded the term-limited Shelley Vana as the District 3 commissioner, will serve on the Public Safety Coordinating Council and the Value Adjustment Board.
Bernard, who defeated Priscilla Taylor to win the District 7 seat, picks up a spot on the CareerSource Palm Beach County committee in addition to the Homeless Advisory Board seat.
Mack Bernard, middle, greets guests at an election party at Revolutions at City Place Revolutions at City Place West Palm Beach Tuesday August 30, 2016.
The two new commissioners will serve as alternatives on the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Their five colleagues will serve as regular members of the MPO.
District 1’s commissioner, Hal Valeche, will serve on the Artificial Reef and Estuarine Committee. He will be an alternate on the BioScience Land Protection Advisory Board and will serve on the Loxahatchee River Management Coordinating Council, the Northlake Boulevard Task Force and the Pal Mal Water Control District.
District 2’s commissioner, Paulette Burdick, will serve on the Children’s Services Council and the Water Resources Task Force. Burdick has been chosen by her colleagues to serve as county mayor.
Steven Abrams, who represents District 4, will serve on the Kravis Center board, the Multi-Jurisdictional Issues Coordination Forum Executive Committee, the Palm Beach Broadband board, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority and the Value Adjustment Board, where he will be chairman.
District 5’s commissioner, Mary Lou Berger, will serve on the BioScience Land Protection Advisory Board, the Palm Beach County Cultural Council and the Water Resources Task Force.
In District 6, Melissa McKinlay will serve on the Business Development Executive Board and the County Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake ‘O.’
Valeche, Burdick and Kerner will serve as regular members of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, with Abrams, McKinlay and Bernard serving as alternates.
Commissioners declare which boards and committees they want to serve on, with the mayor making the final decision on assignments.
“I’m a firm believer in, where possible, having a commissioner serving on each of these committee during their term in office,” Burdick said.
The county mayor said she also was mindful of commissioner expertise and interest such as Abrams’ extensive knowledge of transportation issues.
by Wayne Washington