Florida's Govenor Rick Scott

This past November, Republican Rick Scott was elected Florida's Govenor, beating out Democrat Alex Sink by a small margine.

Scott, the former CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, held no previous political office before running for govenor. His motto was: "Let's Get to Work." During Scott's time as HCA's CEO, the chain defrauded the federal government by falsely adding Medicare charges for work that was never done to the tune of several BILLION dollars.

Since becoming governor, Scott has cut entire departments in an effort to cut spending, thereby adding more Floridians to the unemployment ranks. He has also rejected federal money for a high-speed rail system which would have put the so-called "Bullet-train" between Orlando and Tampa. This would have added thousands of desperately needed jobs, as well as federal money to the local economy. He is also pushing to have the time a person can receive unemployment in Florida from 26 to 20 weeks.

And now this: he has proudly pushed through cuts for funding for the state's disabled.

Here is the article, taken from the Orlando Sentinel:

Gov. Rick Scott orders immediate cuts to programs for disabled
By Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel

8:33 PM EDT, March 31, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered deep cuts Thursday to programs that serve tens of thousands of residents with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities.

Though a range of state services face cuts from this year's Legislature, the governor invoked his emergency powers to order the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities to immediately roll back payments to group homes and social workers by 15 percent — an amount providers say could put them out of business and threaten their clients' safety.

"lt's not like, 'Gee, does this mean I have to skip a vacation this year?'" said Amy Van Bergen, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. "Potentially, these cuts have life and death implications for these people."

An estimated 30,000 Floridians with severe developmental disabilities receive services that help them live outside of nursing homes — typically with family or in small group homes. Aides help them eat, bathe, take medication and otherwise care for themselves.

But the governor said the Agency for Persons with Disabilities' ongoing budget deficit — currently at $170 million — had reached a critical point and needed to be addressed immediately.

The cuts go into effect Friday and last at least through the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Lawmakers are currently debating what will happen after that.

Providers had not been informed of the cuts.

"No one has gotten any notice," said Linda Cumbie, an Orlando social worker who coordinates services that clients need to live outside of a nursing home — which would be a more expensive arrangement for the state. "We have to find out through the newspapers."

Cumbie said funds for the disabled already had been pared back to skeletal levels. She personally is holding a carwash and bake sale to help out one young disabled client so he can attend a daily workshop program.

Katie Porta, president of Quest Inc., which operates a series of group homes and programs for those with disabilities, said provider rates in Florida already rank in the bottom 10 percent for all states.

"We are almost to the point of impossibility in providing for our clients' basic health and safety needs," she said. "I just fear for our people."

She wasn't the only one. Alan McIntosh, a 57-year-old Orlando man with cerebral palsy, relies on an aide to do just about anything requiring movement. "I don't know what he [Gov. Scott] is thinking," McIntosh said. "As it is, I'm just trying to survive."

His aide, Debbie Pascascio, works 24 hours a day, four days in a row, to care for McIntosh and two other people with severe disabilities. Though she did not want to reveal her salary, other aides say $800 a week for round-the-clock care is typical, and many workers receive no health insurance, sick leave or retirement benefits.

APD Chief of Staff Bryan Vaughan said his department had no choice. "These actions are necessary … so that we are not forced to eliminate services to this vulnerable population," he said in a news release issued late Thursday. "APD is committed to protecting the health and safety of Floridians with developmental disabilities while living within our budget."

But at the Threshold Center for Autism in Winter Park, former CEO and current board member Bob Wright said something has to give. Staffers there work with children and adults who are severely impaired and sometimes violent.

"If this were any other workplace, you would consider it a war zone," Wright said. "My staff gets bitten, hit, kicked, spat upon, defecated on, urinated on — for $8.23 an hour. And every time we start talking about giving our guys a pay raise, the governor comes along and cuts the rates."

The center has not had a rate increase for its services since 2005, and it has had several rounds of cuts since then. At the same time, training requirements for staffers have increased.

"The state can cut my rates by 15 percent, but I can't cut my staffing 15 percent or I'll be in violation of staffing ratios," Wright added. "This may break our backs."

ksantich@tribune.com or 407-420-5503

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel