Florida Agency Spent $200K on PR Firm After Being Accused of Withholding Aid

A Florida agency tasked with disbursing state funds to assist people born with neurological disorders was recently accused of withholding aid – but instead of pursuing change internally, the agency spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring a public relations firm, a new ProPublica investigation found.

The Birth-Related Neurological Injury Comp Association (NICA), spent nearly $200,000 hiring a public relations firm while it was under investigationBy ProPublicaThe Miami Herald. The news outlets were in the midst of uncovering a “no, no, no culture” from the agency, one parent told reporters.

That parent, Dan Bookhout, said that he constantly had to fight NICA for aid – so it was suspicious when the agency suddenly offered him a $30,000 device that would help his 5-year-old daughter walk. Bookhout was also asked by the agency to promote the device to other parents.

This offer seems to have been part a strategy that Sachs Media recommended. Sachs was contacted by NICA to assist it in overcoming its rejection of requests for wheelchairs and other aids for people with disabilities.

“The Miami Herald has been conducting an investigation into NICA for several months, submitting numerous requests for public records and interviews,” Sachs executive Ryan Cohn wrote in an email to NICA in late 2019. “We see this as the path forward to win in the court of public opinion and to protect your mission and the future of the organization.”

The PR firm published two stories in a local newspaper praising Bookhout for offering the device. The firm was also provided contact information for parents through the agency, despite previously withholding that information from parents seeking to form a community to care for children with disabilities.

The agency currently has funding of nearly $1.7 billion. faces a state audit. NICA was created under a law that bars parents from suing medical officials, with the promise that they would receive financial assistance from the state – but reporters have found that families have largely been deprived of that aid. Parents have had to fight for critical resources such as drugs and blenders that make it easier to eat. In addition, the agency has repeatedly refused distribution of larger items such as wheelchairs.

Other investigations into the agency have come to a similar conclusion: ultimately, it appears that NICA’s priority isn’t distributing the assistance that parents were promised, but instead ensuring that it can continue to withhold aid.

The Miami Herald found that since the agency’s founding in 1988, it has spent around $18 million on lawyers and lobbyists, often with the aim of engineering methods to decrease aid. Over the years, they paid $1.1 million to one pediatric neurologist to stop his patients from receiving the aid they needed. Miami Herald reported.

These reports were addressed by the Florida legislature has issued reformsThey require higher first-time payment and increased benefits. Parents claim that there are have been improvements since that bill was signed, but it’s unclear if the changes will be temporary.