Palm Beach Post by George Bennett
September 25, 2017
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office confirmed Monday that it has deleted four voicemail messages left on his cellphone by a Broward County nursing home where 11 patients died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning.
The urgency of the messages, which the nursing home left on the phone in the 36 hours before the first patient died, has been a matter of dispute between the governor and the Rehabilitiation Center at Hollywood Hills.
The nursing home — which had its license to operate suspended by the Scott administration last week — says in a court filing that it characterized the lack of air conditioning as “an emergency” in at least one of the messages. But Scott’s office says that when state officials returned each of the Rehabilitation Center’s calls, nursing home representatives never indicated patients were in danger or needed to be evacuated.
CBS 4 in Miami first reported the deletion of the voicemail messages.
“The voicemails on Governor Scott’s personal cell phone were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the Governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling in accordance with Florida law. Every call was returned,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said Monday.
“The Governor receives hundreds of voicemails and once acted upon, they are deleted so the voicemail box does not become full, as is the standard practice with anyone operating a cellphone. This practice follows Florida law and the state’s record retention policies,” Schenone said.
She added: “None of this changes the fact that this facility chose not to call 911 or evacuate their patients to the hospital across the street to save lives.”
State guidelines for retaining public records say that most phone messages are considered “transitory messages” that should be preserved until they are “obsolete, superseded, or administrative value is lost.”
Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation said the voicemails could be a valuable public record.
“I don’t think he did anything illegal and I’m not saying the governor is at all culpable in this mess. But just because they could delete them doesn’t mean they have to…It seems to me common sense would say keep these, they’re important,” Petersen said.
The nursing home declined comment. [READ MORE]