- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 23

The Florida Times-Union on a program to help substance-addicted pregnant women:

She was only 21 and pregnant for the 11th time.

A mere six of her children had survived and all were taken from her because of her years-long history of substance abuse, most particularly crack, marijuana and alcohol.

So it seemed this Jacksonville woman’s newest pregnancy would also be doomed.

Luckily for the woman and her unborn baby, a guardian angel in the form of Faye Johnson, now the CEO of Northeast Florida Healthy Start, determined that this pregnancy would be different.

And it was.

The staff at Healthy Start had long been dealing with the woman’s family, which had suffered generations of substance abuse. Now, staffers were determined to get her off drugs so another of her babies wouldn’t die before their first birthday.

Not only did they succeed, the baby was born drug free. And it was the woman’s final pregnancy.

It was a wake-up call for the agency, Johnson says, and focused the agency on finding a way to help substance-addicted pregnant women.

That effort, which began in 2002, has resulted in the birth of the Azalea Project. Last year 160 women were involved in the program.

They’re people such as 37-year-old Teleauba Revels-Rains, who was once one of the pregnant women in the program and now serves as a member of the Azalea Project’s Board of Directors.

Revels-Rains first became acquainted with the Azalea Project when she was 33 and a resident of Gateway Community Services getting treatment for her multi-drug addiction. She became pregnant while in treatment and so began attending Azalea classes.

Her son, Braxton Hilton, was born in 2014 substance-free. Revels-Rains is now married and works as a certified recovery peer specialist at Gateway. She credits Azalea with her success.

“The program gave me a sense of self-worth,” she remembers. “It taught me not only how to be a good mother but how to be a woman. It’s a really special program.”

While the Azalea Project was launched 15 years ago, it may be even more important due to the increase in the number of people being seen with addictions.

Last year alone, over 700 babies were born with drugs in their systems in Northeast Florida. These babies, if they survive, must not only go through the painful process of withdrawal but may be left with lifelong damage.

“These little babies are really struggling,” said Juarlyn Smith, program coordinator for the Azalea Project.

Azalea works by stepping in when a substance-abusing woman is referred to the program by a health care provider. Staff members try to persuade the woman to quit and enter a rehab program such as the one at Gateway.

About a third of the women agree to quit the drug or alcohol abuse that brought them to Azalea’s doorstep. Even after they enter rehab, they still attend special classes at the project dealing with subjects ranging from breast feeding to child care.

Fathers are also brought into Azalea with a special class called Fatherhood Pride. The course offers dads information on baby care and ways to ensure their baby’s mother stays on track with her drug rehabilitation effort.

Then the parents and child are supported through that first year with classes on things such as resume-building, job seeking and nutrition.

It’s all part of the effort to make sure the child can grow up in a stable, healthy home.

Since its inception, the Azalea Project has been offering help to pregnant mothers who primarily live within the urban core.

Now some extra funding from the agency’s state Healthy Start dollars is allowing the program to expand to the city’s Westside.

Some of the same issues plaguing northwest Jacksonville, such as infant mortality, have been spreading to the Westside.

In addition, a three-year grant from the U.S. Office on Women’s Health will allow Healthy Start to train both health care providers and women in the community regarding addiction and pregnancy in the counties served by Healthy Start - Baker, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns and Duval.

We are extremely lucky in Northeast Florida to have such a program.

And it’s representative of the tremendous effect Northeast Florida Health Start has had on this area since it was founded here over a quarter of a century ago. During that time Healthy Start has helped decrease infant mortality by 35 percent.

Thank you, Healthy Start and the Azalea Project, for making such a difference in the lives of our community and its children.

Online: http://jacksonville.com/


Oct. 21

The Miami Herald calls on Gen. John F. Kelly to apologize to U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat:

Gen. John F. Kelly’s journey to the dark side is complete.

At best, he was seriously mistaken when he declared that in 2015 U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson boasted about securing the funds for the FBI’s new Miramar headquarters. At worst, the very worst, he lied.

Given the video of Wilson’s speech at the dedication ceremony released Friday by the Sun Sentinel, we, with regret, think he lied. In attempting to a provide cover for President Trump, whom Wilson criticized for an insensitive call to a Miami Gardens war widow, Kelly’s “recollection,” shared on Thursday at an extraordinary press conference was too specific, so detailed - and, of course, ropes in his boss’ imagined nemesis, President Obama:

“A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money - the $20 million - to build the building, and she sat down, and we were stunned.”

As the video makes clear, by the time “she sat down,” Wilson had praised the FBI, paid tribute to the two slain agents, whose names grace the building because of her efforts, and lauded her Republican colleagues for fast-tracking her legislation.

As Trump’s chief of staff, Kelly was supposed to be the adult in the nursery that used to be the Oval Office. But there’s something about the company he keeps.

Kelly’s willingness to stray so far from the truth, to lob insults at an elected official, to ignore what’s really significant - the unanswered questions of a military operation in Niger in which four Green Berets were killed, including Sgt. La David Johnson for whom funeral services were held in Miami-Dade on Saturday - all say that Trump is winning the battle to corrupt all who come within his sphere.

In truth, Trump’s enablers are required to do such intricate spin jobs on his behalf, that often they spin out of control.

And affirming the administration’s slide into authoritarianism, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday petulantly lectured reporters that questioning a four-star general such as Kelly was “highly inappropriate.” It was a chilling statement, and further proof of the Trump administration’s hostility toward not just the media, but the people - Americans - on whose behalf the media work.

Here’s what’s highly inappropriate:

For Kelly, according to Sanders, decry that his son Robert’s death while on a mission in Afghanistan became a political football last week - when Trump himself introduced the issue to score a field goal.

For the president to have manipulated Robert Kelly’s death for political gain in the first place.

For the president and his administration to wait almost two weeks before there was any mention from the White House on the Niger operation that went horribly wrong.

For the president and his administration to not seem to care one whit why it went horribly wrong, opting to engage in a needless distraction.

For Kelly to not apologize to Wilson for his attempt at character assassination.

And oh, the irony: Sanders continued her briefing-room absurdities Friday, saying: “As Gen. Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”

It’s time for Kelly to admit that he works for one.

Online: http://www.miamiherald.com/


Oct. 23

The Ocala Star-Banner on storm prep:

Man plans, Mother Nature laughs.

It’s a truism as old as civilization itself. And one state government learned the hard way with Hurricane Irma.

Florida officials knew as early as December 2016 that the state wasn’t prepared for a major hurricane. That’s when the Division of Emergency Management’s inspector general released an audit that detailed deficiencies in the agency’s operations.

As reported by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, those issues included inadequate food and water supplies at a central distribution center in Orlando, expired contracts with companies to supply cots to shelters, and lapsed agreements with trucking companies to distribute supplies.

The agency was using a spreadsheet created in the 1980s to predict the amount of supplies and equipment needed. The report concluded: “The division’s ability to respond to disasters may be impaired.”

To their credit, top officials took the audit seriously and vowed to improve. Unfortunately, they gave themselves until March 2018 to do it - 18 months after the report, and long after the 2017 hurricane season. Irma showed complete disregard for the timeline.

The state’s after-action evaluation on Irma has not been completed, but there were reports at the time from across the state of difficulties in opening shelters, and delays in organizing and transporting supplies. Some shelters faced a shortage of cots, just as the audit warned.

How many of the logistical problems were due to the size and scope of Irma, and how many could have been avoided by better planning? That’s a key question the state must answer. You can’t plan and execute flawlessly for every natural disaster, but you can learn from experience what has worked and what hasn’t.

For example, after the busy hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, the Legislature concluded that creating staging and warehouse capacity for supplies would improve response times. So it built the State Logistics Response Center in Orlando. But several audits over the years found the center haphazardly managed supplies, had poor record keeping and inadequate preparation. More than half the space was empty, which the report estimated was costing taxpayers $1.6 million a year.

Auditors also noted the lack of clear direction and oversight in state emergency management, saying they were “unable to identify clear expectations of the division to provide supplies and equipment to shelters.”

Following the 2004-05 onslaught of storms, Florida was fortunate to have a decade-long respite from hurricanes. The 2016 season offered a stress test of sorts: Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Panhandle as a Category 1 storm, and Hurricane Matthew brushed the Atlantic Coast, causing extensive damage even though it never came ashore, thus sparing the state the worst of its ferocity.

That was the wake-up call to state emergency management officials to identify weaknesses in the system and to accelerate fixes. They accomplished the former, but weren’t expeditious with the latter.

Irma showed why Florida can’t afford to write off an entire hurricane season again fixing inadequacies. The state must be better prepared for 2018 than it was 2017.

Online: http://www.ocala.com/

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