Skip to main content

AFSCME Florida Demands Accountability One Year After Hurricane Michael

Social share icons

Unsafe Conditions at State Hospitals in Northwest Florida Continue to Create Health and Safety Hazards for Residents and Workers 

Marianna, FL- One year after Hurricane Michael left much of the Florida panhandle devastated, conditions at two hard hit state run hospitals continue to cause health and safety issues for residents and staff. A recent investigation by federally funded watchdog organization Disability Rights Florida concluded that air quality issues resulting from damage from Hurricane Michael continue to pose a health risk. 

“The situation is dire” said Tallulah Thomas, a Behavioral Program Specialist with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities at Florida State Hospital and President of AFSCME Local 1963. “We have employees at Sunland Center that had to seek medical treatment as a result of the ongoing air quality issues at their worksite. This is a clear violation of our contract. Our employer has not addressed the health and safety issues with our union.” 

AFSCME Local 1963 represents hundreds of employees at Sunland Center and the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. Both facilities were damaged one year ago when Hurricane Michael slammed into the panhandle with wind speeds up to 155 miles an hour. In the past year, moisture issues at the Sunland Center has produced mold in several areas but the APD has not been quick to act in the best interests of their residents and employees. 

In response, AFSCME Florida President Vicki Hall issued the following statement: 

AFSCME Florida is committed to the health and safety of our members and the residents they care for. To that end, we support a full investigation of working conditions at Sunland Center and the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee and ask that the Agency for Persons with Disabilities provide a full health and safety report for these facilities as well as hold a meeting with employees to communicate the findings. 

The health and safety violations at these facilities adds to the often mentally and physically grueling and dangerous work state employees face at these facilities. Earlier this year, AFSCME Florida fought to get Special Risk classification for these employees as recognition of the stressful environments they work in. In 2018, several hundred staff members at Chattahoochee and Sunland Center worked tirelessly in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael to care for over 1,000 residents when the hospital was severely damaged and cut off by the storm. Left with only emergency radios to communicate with first responders, AFSCME members helped direct delivery of supplies and food which had to be air dropped after the hospital was left inaccessible. This epitomizes the dedication and seriousness with which employees take their duties even under the worst of circumstances.

The reclassification bill returning in the next legislative session would designate workers at Florida’s mental facilities as Special Risk Class within the Florida Retirement System-a long overdue recognition of the sacrifices these public service workers make daily on behalf of all Floridians.