Government

'Ineffective' State Agency Trips Up Rick Scott Jobs Campaign

Injured ex-workers are ignored by bureau -- and that was before it was downsized
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: June 30, 2011 3:55 AM
Gov. Rick Scott and Frances Ford

Gov. Rick Scott and Frances Ford, head of ReEmployAbility

Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to get Florida back to work, but things aren't working out so well at the Bureau of Rehabilitation and Re-employment Services, which is tasked with helping injured employees get back on the job.

Effective Friday, the BRRS will lose 55 of its 82 staff positions and see its funding reduced by two-thirds. Regional offices are being consolidated, leaving some residents hundreds of miles away from services.

Sunshine State News' calls to the BRRS went unanswered or unreturned. Its overseer, the state Department of Education, offered only a boilerplate recitation of the bureau's duties.

Downsizing and administrative shuffling should be the least of taxpayers' concerns, says Frances Ford, head of ReEmployAbility, a private service that helps injured workers return to the workplace.

"It's a bureaucratic black hole," Ford said of BRRS from her Tampa office. "They didn't do anything for the injured worker when they had money. They got what they deserved."

Rick Morales, an attorney with Florida Workers Advocates, which represents injured workers, was slightly more charitable. He said he has had good experience working with with BRRS' Miami office, but gets poor results from other district offices.

"Cutting the staff won't help the employment situation in the state," Morales said. "Step by step, benefits are being taken away from workers who are trying to get back to work."

One public school employee, who was injured by a special-education student and then ticketed for termination after a physician listed her with a 10 percent disability, told Sunshine State News that BRRS was no help.

"I made several calls and was put on hold to listen to recordings of Governor Scott talking about getting Florida back to work," said the ex-employee who requested anonymity.

"The phone messages stated that the offices were open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and then said to call back during business hours," the worker related.

Frustrated by the automated brush-off, she finally contacted the governor's Citizens Services office and, after two days, was routed to a live BRRS worker, who could offer no help.

"Unfortunately, this is very typical of the system," said Ford.

An unknown number of Florida workers who have sustained less-than-debilitating injuries on the job remain unemployed after being terminated. Some collect small disability payments or workers' compensation, but many more are left to fend for themselves.

Because the "accommodation" requirements of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act are superseded by workers' comp laws, employers are not required to retain an employee if they cannot accommodate the worker.

After two weeks of administrative "light duty," the school employee was informed by the workers' comp doctor that she had reached "maximum medical improvement." The district then scheduled her for termination on July 29. She was also told she could apply for other positions, along with the rest of the general population.

Even with her experience, exemplary work record and glowing references, the school employee, who holds a college degree and earned only $11.88 per hour, has yet to be interviewed for any of the dozens of qualified positions for which she applied.

The BRRS is supposed to facilitate transitions for injured workers through retraining, re-education and job-placement services. But the program received heavy criticism from lawmakers who said they could not get straight answers from bureau director Reginald Watkins.

In a post-session blog, Ford wrote: "The BRRS is in turmoil and carriers requesting state retraining services should anticipate denials. The bureau was inefficient and ineffective before and they won’t improve with less money."

Watkins did not return a call from Sunshine State News.

As long as Florida's workers' comp law provides for retraining services, the BRRS cannot being completely dismantled. Meantime, however, the bureau's performance has not earned stellar ratings from injured workers or professionals who deal with it.

"Some states have nothing at all, but of the states that do, we are one of the worst," Ford said.

Now, in an ironic twist, up to 55 BRRS workers will be counting themselves among the newly unemployed on Friday -- apparent casualties of self-inflicted bureaucratic bungling.

Gov. Scott's office declined to comment.

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Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (10)

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4:43AM NOV 4TH 2011
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eagles77
3:05PM JUL 1ST 2011
Ineffective governor = Ineffective state agencies.
occounty
4:26PM JUN 30TH 2011
Wow. Rick Scott laying off workers and a rigged workers compensation plan. One term in office is going to leave Florida in worse shape than it is now.
tallahasse
3:10PM JUN 30TH 2011
The sad part about this story was that even Citizen Services didn't realize that this division wasn't answering their phones during business hours and the the division has basically been hobbled. Heck, they don't even know whose running it yet. This is the "customer service" and "government accountability" that Rick Scott keeps talking about. Pretty soon, no one will be answering the phone at the Governor's office either....he's too busy finding ways to pad his investments!
marlins11
3:02PM JUN 30TH 2011
The state of Florida needs to wake up. Gov. Scott is doing away with what few workers rights were left in this state. Teachers and staff face an uphill battle every day between kids who have been taught that there are no rules or consequences, and administrators that don't have the backbone to back up their staff.
K Knight
8:11AM JUN 30TH 2011
It is apparent that this worker wanted to make a difference by working with children who have special needs. Yet it seems Florida has dismissed their obligation to provide for these children as well the dedicated staff who step up to the plate to work with the children at a low hourly wage. As a Florida native I am embarrassed by their actions.
florida education
7:10AM JUN 30TH 2011
There's another huge issue in this article....staff being injured and suffering temporary or permanent disabilities because of schools not maintaining staffing requirements for special needs students, while they still collect the federal funds for student services. Teachers and paraprofessionals are often put in dangerous situations because the administrators don't provide coverage for the classrooms. The treatment these staff members receive once injured, through no fault of their own, is often due to gross negligence on the part of the school, however, under Florida's worker comp policies, they are able to just terminate the worker and NEVER be held responsible for their actions. Governor Scott is taking care of big business and protecting drug mills....but those of those working with special needs children end up unemployed, without health insurance and no rights. Why would anyone want to work in Florida?
RepublicanConscience
5:35AM JUN 30TH 2011
The heartfelt examples cited are just the result of the present climate. The people of Florida do not want to pay for waste. Perhaps the fact that the program is running under the Department of Education might be a clue as to its ineffectiveness. The DOA and most other governmental agencies' personnel all suffer from rampant entitlementism, and that disease usually makes these people unemployable in the real world. The cure is for them to realize that the job will go to the hardest working most effective workers and when they demonstrate that they bring value not time, they will rise to the top. It is not rocket science.

The "Market" works all the time, just get out of its way.
Common Sense
3:59AM JUN 30TH 2011
"The bureau was inefficient and ineffective before and they won’t improve with less money."

If history of government is any indication then it would not improve with more money either.

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