Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Health

Romano: Suspect HIV numbers another case of Rick Scott's Flori-topia?

The numbers, as they say, do not lie. It's the people inventing those numbers for their own benefit that should make you suspicious as hell.

For instance, the Florida Department of Health came up with a brand-new tally of recent HIV cases in the state, as reported by the Times' Kathleen McGrory.

The original number was 6,147 new cases in 2014, which had a lot of people questioning why Florida was intent on cutting health funding and staff. Not long afterward, the department decided there were actually only 4,613 new cases, an almost 25 percent reduction.

Normally, this would be fantastic news.

But, as it turns out, news is rarely normal in Gov. Rick Scott's version of Flori-topia.

You see, some might say the governor has a habit of manipulating the news to create a make-believe Florida more to his liking. Which is a roundabout way of saying his fingerprints have been found on quite a few fibs.

You might remember the case of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Eight years after being appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, Bailey abruptly left office without warning or explanation.

The governor said Bailey resigned. Bailey later said he was fired, and the governor was a liar. This was an important distinction because the governor did not have the authority to fire the commissioner without the permission of at least one Cabinet member, all of whom were led to believe by Scott that Bailey had left voluntarily.

That's just one case. There is also the problem of the Florida prison system, with its suspiciously high number of inmate deaths and cries of understaffing.

The former head of the Department of Corrections told the Miami Herald that Scott's office issued false press releases, asked him to scapegoat innocent employees and orchestrated news conferences as a smokescreen to the real dangers involved.

Or how about when Scott's investigation of Planned Parenthood clinics failed to turn up any evidence of illegal fetal tissue sales? Scott's office rewrote health care agency press releases to remove a one-sentence exoneration of Planned Parenthood.

There's a pattern here to remake Florida in the likeness of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Everyone is happy, everything is upbeat and every word is pure. Except Mr. Rogers didn't fire uncooperative agency heads, and his neighborhood didn't scam voters.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying the Department of Health numbers were fabricated. It's entirely possible they were monumentally miscalculated in the first place. Or maybe the bean counters inexplicably got more aggressive about weeding out duplicates.

The problem is officials kept dodging McGrory's questions about the recount, and workers in the trenches suggest the explanations out of Tallahassee don't add up.

When you factor in this administration's history, it doesn't leave much faith in their fidelity to the truth.

And, in this case, it's not just political shenanigans at stake. This is a potential crisis of significant proportions. If HIV cases in Florida are spiking, it's a problem that needs attention. And it's news that residents need to be aware of.

We've all accepted that spinning the news has become a political reality.

What's maddening, and unacceptable, is they take it a step farther and try to spin an alternate reality in Florida.

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