Sen. Passidomo proposes mental health assistance bill for public schools

Tallahassee Democrat

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Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is pushing for a system that would help Florida school districts spot and treat mental illness in students early on.

The senator has been working on the proposal, included in SB 1434, since last fall. It comes amid a national dialogue about the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tragedy and what could have been done to prevent it.

“Different districts have different responses to students that are either acting out or having issues,” she said, “but we don’t really have a statewide policy.”

Introduced by Passidomo and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K through 12 Education, it would require school districts to establish partnerships with local mental health providers and train school staff to recognize symptoms in troubled kids.

Passidomo held workshops with school superintendents from around the state and discussed what social issues are of concern in their districts; substance abuse and mental health were among the top concerns.

She explained the program is meant to help divert kids from going down a dangerous path by recognizing symptoms early on and getting them help.

“We don’t have a mechanism to divert them from that path,” she said. “Teachers know who these kids are, but they’re powerless to do anything because we don’t have a structure in place.”

This week, she heard from student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre who came to the Capitol to press legislators for stiffer gun restrictions.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that would dispute that someone (who) has a mental illness or mental health issues should be able to purchase any gun,” Passidomo said, replying to one student’s question.

Sen. Passidomo Pushes For More Funding of Schools’ Mental Health Initiative


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As South Florida reels from Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Broward County high school, State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is working to secure funding for Florida school districts to better identify and address mental health concerns in students early on.

Unbeknownst to Sen. Passidomo, as she was presenting her bill (SB 1434) to members of the chamber’s K through 12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Wednesday, the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland was occurring.

The proposal calls for districts to create a plan or framework for identifying and addressing mental health concerns in students ranging from bullying to gang activity.  Those plans would also involve partnerships between schools and local mental health providers.  The idea was born out of workshops Passidomo held with education stakeholders including Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie.  Sen. Passidomo said it’s about providing the kind of proactive early intervention that could help prevent tragedies like Wednesday’s mass shooting.

“We need to address these issues early on,” said Sen. Passidomo.  “I can’t say anymore.  The thing that’s most troubling to me is that Florida is one of the worst states in the country for funding for mental health and so these kinds of things have happened and if we could intervene early on in the lives of these people they won’t become monsters that they are today.  It’s reprehensible if we don’t do something soon.”

Currently, the Florida Senate’s approved $87.3 billion budget proposal includes $40 million for the initiative.  Passidomo said that is not enough.  She said she’s working to convince her Senate colleagues and the House to allocate more money for the effort in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.

Panel OKs bill requiring extra power sources for nursing homes

Sun Sentinel

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Nursing homes would have to have alternative power sources to keep on the air conditioning, under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill would put into law the emergency rules ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after 12 elderly residents in Hollywood died of heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at their nursing home.

Scott’s rules initially required generators in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that could power air conditioning in the event of a loss of power. But they were rewritten after threats of legal action from trade groups representing nursing homes and ALFs. They argued that many small assisted living facilities could not afford the industrial generators required.

The new, rewritten rules — and the bill approved Wednesday — do not require a generator. Instead, they require some alternative power source to run air conditioning in emergency situations.

“You can call it a generator bill, but it may not be a generator. It could be natural gas or it could be some other power source,” said state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the bill sponsor. “And that makes sense — 10 years from now, generators may be passé and we may be solar or whatever.”

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services passed the bill unanimously. It still has to be heard by two committees before it reaches the Senate floor. Although there are a dozen bills relating to nursing home generators filed in the Florida Legislature, none has had a committee hearing in the House.

“I think his committee bill is going to be much broader and take into consideration a lot more than just the nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Passidomo said.

The bill differs in one important aspect from Scott’s rules, in that it requires nursing homes and ALFs to keep at least four days of fuel for an emergency power source. Scott’s rules only require four days of fuel for facilities that are in an area where a state of emergency has been declared. In ordinary circumstances, under Scott’s rules, the facilities only need two or three days, depending on the size of the facility.

If the House produces a broader bill, the two chambers will have to agree on a single version of the bill before they can pass it and send it to Scott to be signed into law. Regardless of what else winds up in the bill, Passidomo said the bottom line is preventing more deaths.

“It shouldn’t have happened then, and we certainly don’t want it to happen in the future,” she said. “If these power sources work, then we won’t have any deaths.”


Florida Senate unveils its education spending plan, differing with House on taxes, teacher pay

Tampa Bay Times

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One day after the Florida House released its education budget plan, the Florida Senate followed suit, revealing key differences early in the process.

The two chambers both seek to increase per-student funding, but not by the same amount. The Senate is asking for $110 more, compared to the House’s $100. Neither approaches Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended $200 per student hike.

The Senate, like Scott, calls for leaving school districts’ required local taxing effort unchanged at $4.308 per $1,000 of taxable value. That would allow the schools to benefit from rising property values. The House, by contrast, looks to cut the rate by 19.1 cents per $1,000, suggesting that some new properties be added to the tax roll to increase revenue.

“It’s good that they’re coming closer to the concept,” Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo said of the House. “The bottom line is when we looked at the numbers, it really didn’t, particularly in my district, using all the RLE doesn’t really affect the tax issues in our community so I felt very comfortable just keeping all of it in there.”

The Senate proposed changes to the House’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, for which the House set aside $253 million. After hearing teacher complaints, the Senate recommended moving $184 million into general operations to give classroom educators raises rather than one-time pay bumps.

“These funds will be in perpetuity,” Passidomo said, adding that the criteria would not change.

Last year, the Legislature expanded the program to include bonuses of up to $800 for teachers rated “effective” and $1,200 for those evaluated as “highly effective.”

The Senate also included $88 million to support “Schools of Hope” grants for traditional district schools that have landed in turnaround mode because of two consecutive D grades or one F. It further would remove the cap on the number of schools eligible for grants of up to $2,000 per student.

Last year, the Legislature approved the program for up to 25 schools.

“All the schools that are consistently low-performing should be eligible for those additional dollars in their turnaround plan, not just 25 schools. That’s why we did it. And a lot of our members have schools in those districts and they asked for it.”

The Senate joined Scott in proposing nearly $18 million more for teacher classroom supplies, and also recommended $40 million to help schools deal with student mental health issues (a Passidomo priority).

Committee members largely praised the process and the recommendations, which advance to the full Appropriations Committee.

Vice chairwoman Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, applauded the idea of getting raises to teachers, noting that many in Hillsborough County were refused raises by their school district. This can’t heal the wound, she said, but at least it can help them get back on track.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said he had some (unmentioned) concerns, but added, “We will work though those as we move along.”

Kathleen Passidomo backs SB 434 push with video of addicted babies

Florida Politics

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State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo has launched a powerful and alarming promotion of her bill to create a new Florida-based project to take care of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.


Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, posted social-media advertisingfeaturing a video produced with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Fort Myers, talking about babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the syndrome’s devastating effects on newborns, and its shocking increase in occurrence.

“We’ve seen a 1,200 percent increase in our babies admitted for neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Golisano Medical Director and neonatologist Dr. William Liu states in the video.

“What we are seeing is our babies are the ones who are collateral damage,” he states.

The babies are born addicted, and must go through painful and risky withdrawal.

Passidomo’s Senate Bill 434 would authorize a statewide pilot project for a new way to treat such babies. The bill is up for a key committee consideration Thursday afternoon.

The bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration, in consultation with the Florida Department of Children and Families, to establish a pilot project to license one or more health centers to treat NAS babies after stabilization, offering a community-based, lower-cost, more baby-centric care. That’s an alternative to the current treatment normally provided in hospital neonatal intensive care units, care that is lengthy [averaging 23 days] and expensive, and a burden on the state’s Medicare program. Much of the the expensive equipment and staffing at the neonatal ICU is not needed after a few days.

The pilot project is part of a national effort.

“We have a responsibility to the babies being born into the devastation of the opioid crisis,” Passidomo stated in a news release issued by Florida Senate Republicans. “The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Pilot Project takes important steps toward ensuring these babies are not left behind while we as a society work toward tackling the larger crisis we are facing.”

SB 434 was approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee in early November, and on Thursday is being considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which meets at 12:30 p.m.


Hurricane Irma: Panel says storm stretched federal, local response

Naples Daily News

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When Hurricane Irma swept through Florida more than 1½ months ago, the giant storm quickly stretched federal resources, tested local governments’ emergency plans and left so much destruction in its wake it could make the storm one of the costliest in the state’s history.

Hurricane Andrew “is nothing compared to Irma,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, during a panel discussion in North Naples on Thursday, referring to the 1992 Category 5 storm that led to sweeping changes in the insurance industry, weather forecasting and disaster response.

“Irma hit the entire state.”

Passidomo — speaking as part of a panel put on by the Naples Press Club at the Tiburón Golf Club — said projections show the state “will advance about $665 million for hurricane-related expenses.”

State officials hope 75 percent to 95 percent of that will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, she said.

“That’s a huge number,” Passidomo said. “This is not going to be a cheap storm. We’re going to surpass probably Andrew, which was our highest expenditure.”

Irma, which made landfall in Collier County on Sept. 10, posed significant challenges to local officials, too.

Dan Summers, director of the Collier emergency operations center, praised the community’s resolve, the partnership with state and federal officials and the work of “second responders” who labored behind the scenes during the storm recovery effort.

But he said the far-reaching storm made it hard to adequately prepare.

“We had over 17,000 people in shelters,” said Summers, who also spoke as a member of the panel. “And I will tell you that we underestimated. Our planning assumptions were too low for sheltering.”

In the days and hours leading to the storm’s arrival in Southwest Florida, many residents faced long lines to enter shelters. Some had to look elsewhere as Collier officials navigated the largest evacuation in the county’s history.

Summers said Irma’s size and path made it difficult for residents looking to evacuate to know where to go.

The storm “coming up the spine, or up the center of the peninsula, generated such a large evacuation number in Collier County,” he said. “We’re going to go back and take a look at that.”

For FEMA officials, the storm — sandwiched between Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, which devastated Texas and Puerto Rico, respectively — put a strain on federal resources, delayed housing inspections and overwhelmed the agency’s hotline in the aftermath.

Irma was unprecedented in its prolonged intensity, said Dolph Diemont, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA who spoke as part of the three-person panel.

“Packing 185 mph winds for 37 hours straight,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “The longest on record maintained by any cyclone around the globe.”

Since the storm, 2.6 million individuals and families have registered for FEMA assistance, Diemont said, which exceeds the registrations for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy combined.

“And that number continues to increase,” he said, adding that the registration deadline was extended to Nov. 24.

So far, almost 71,000 residents in Collier have registered with FEMA, Diemont said. Of the more than $1.3 billion in federal assistance distributed throughout Florida to date, about $52.5 million went to Collier, he said.

Still, Diemont acknowledged that the agency — spread thin between three major storms — initially struggled to keep up with a flood of calls from residents trying to register and lagged behind in inspecting damaged homes.

“This resulted in longer processing times,” he said. “Our 1-800 number was frequently overwhelmed, and applicants complained of very long wait times, hours sometimes. Housing inspections were also delayed. Some waited for a month or longer to get their inspections.”

But Diemont said the agency brought in additional call center staff and increased its capacity to bring the hold time down to under a minute. FEMA also beefed up its number of housing inspectors, he said.

“We did whatever we could as best as we could,” Diemont said. “But I know a lot of people are frustrated.”

Diemont, in response to a question from the audience, also said that Everglades City — one of the hardest hit communities where relief was slow to arrive and many returned to uninhabitable homes — is “one of our highest priority areas.”

As of Thursday, 9,986 residents were eligible for rental assistance in Collier, Summers said. As part of transitional sheltering, which takes individuals from a shelter to a hotel, 112 residents are staying in hotels out of county and 343 in Collier hotels, he said.

Additionally, 81 Collier families are eligible for FEMA housing, Summers said.

Though he said the agency’s housing mission in Florida will be “long and complicated,” Diemont said FEMA is committed to stay for as long as it needs “to get the job done.”

“We’ll continue to work through these recovery challenges,” he said.

State Rep. Passidomo bill offers help for opioid babies


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The infants are born addicted. They struggle to live. They cry constantly as they go through the same withdrawal symptoms as an adult, wanting more of the drug that had become their food the past nine months.

The opioid crisis impacts much more than the drug user. For the pregnant women addicted to these drugs the baby becomes addicted. When they are born, the crisis continues for days, even months, as they are treated for drug dependency. They need to be cared for 24 hours a day, except for the brief time they may fall asleep.

But in recovery, these babies need help once they can leave hospitals, usually in less than 20 days, but often times the mother, because of her addiction, can’t leave or isn’t capable of caring for the child. The babies need to be fed properly and cared for properly. Their mothers, in many cases still fighting substance abuse, aren’t capable of caring for them. Florida’s Department of Children and Families can assist, but it is overwhelmed. There are not enough foster families to take these babies.

Florida Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has a possible solution and one we believe can make a difference. She has introduced legislation that will create a pilot program, allowing private, non-profit organizations to establish facilities that can provide 24-hour care for these infants once they can leave intensive care units. She wants proper background checks before licenses are issued but reduced fees to make it affordable, and minimum requirements for organizations to create these facilities. She wants facilities that take Medicaid patients so low income women and their babies can get care.

These facilities will be accountable for following state law among their personnel and within the facility. Passidomo said motivation for the bill was provided by a Naples attorney, who has been volunteering at a local hospital, caring for these sick infants. The attorney has helped form a non-profit specifically for caring for opioid babies if this legislation is passed and the organization applies for and gets licensed.

An important component to the pilot program is not only the treatment of these sick infants, but also measuring the results. She wants the department of health to step up and contract with a state university or college to provide baseline data on outcomes of the care and treatment. She wants the department of health to report back to the Legislature by specified dates on how programs are functioning. The study also will go well beyond what happens at the facilities. Critical to this data will be plans to track these drug dependent babies throughout childhood on how well they are doing in school and if they also face any drug addictions.

We encourage Florida Gulf Coast University or Florida SouthWestern State College to take a serious look at the this program and how it can help. Medical students could benefit from the training and experience of working with individuals involved in the program and with infants.

We are also encouraged that this program goes well beyond the treatment of the infant. It provides for the mother, once she is successfully treated, to be a resident at the facility and to be able to feed her child. The program provides for parenting education, breastfeeding education and counseling, as well as other resources. It provides for mandatory testing of the mother’s breast milk to make sure she is still not using drugs that in any way can harm the baby. If the mother refuses, the mother will be told to leave. The bill also mandates a facility cannot treat an infant for longer than six months.

It’s also encouraging this program will not require taxpayer support, other than what is provided through Medicaid. Any organization that applies to be part of the program and to open a facility must do it through grants or other private donations.

We are in an opioid crisis. People are overdosing and dying in record numbers. The number of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (opioid dependent) babies born at or transferred into Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida has increased from 1.2 per every 1,000 live births in 2007 to 14.9 in 2016.

This is a big ask of any non-profit to take on such a tremendous responsibility, but it is an ask that must be made. These babies suffer enormously in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and at hospitals across the country. This problem is not easing. It is only getting worse.

Passidomo’s bill offers some hope to this crisis, not only through the treatment of these babies, but also the education and hopefully the prevention of further drug dependency by the mother.

We strongly encourage the Legislature to dissect the bill, ask the necessary questions, many any changes that improve the substance of the program, but in the end measure the worth of treating these babies, to pass the bill and send it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.