Bunnell, FL – The future of what Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly calls a “sick building” is still very much up in the air, even after a new report shows the facility’s environment doesn’t seem to be the cause of a rash of illnesses reported by over 20 employees.
Delivered this morning during a Flagler County Commission workshop, the meeting soon evolved into a heated debate featuring lawsuit threats between county officials and the legal team representing some of those employees.
The report from ESi – a Fort Myers-based company hired by the county to perform environmental tests since FCSO evacuated the building last month – was followed by numerous FCSO employees speaking about health issues they’ve had since moving into the facility off East Moody Boulevard in Bunnell in 2015.
The conversation began with Al Hadeed, the Flagler County Attorney, who talked about the reports released regarding the safety of the building.
Staly then began to point out what he felt were inconsistencies in the reports, saying that he feels like the process is being rushed and that he will “never accept this building until this issue is proven or disproved as the possible cause of employee illness.”
Attorney Geoffrey Bichler with Bichler, Oliver, Long, & Fox – the Orlando-based legal team representing some of those who have filed worker’s compensation claims – questioned Hadeed’s grasp of the law and accused the county of wanting to send the employees back into the building as soon as possible without figuring out what’s wrong.
“The Florida Workman’s Comp law is supposed to be self-executing,” Bichler added. “That means when somebody comes forward with an issue of this nature… where there is uncertainty, there is responsibility to investigate. This is clearly the situation.”
Bichler also told county commissioners that this case could “easily” become a civil negligence claim.
Some employees also reflected on their illnesses during the meeting, including Jennifer Taylor, Commander of the Investigations Division at FCSO.
“I developed hives again and needed to use my inhaler again to breathe when I returned to the building,” Taylor added. “Once I was out of the building, my hives and rash healed once again and I haven’t used my inhaler since.”
“It was not easy to find a physician that actually treats this kind of thing,” said Elizabeth Conrad, a detective with FCSO. “If you think the rashes are bad, that is only a part of what’s wrong with us. Our immune systems are absolutely destroyed, our lymphatic system absolutely haywire. That leads us into not living as we used to.”
FCC Chairman Greg Hansen, along with others, recommended tearing the building down if testing can’t determine what the problem is at the Ops Center, which used to be the site of the county’s only hospital for many years before the county bought the building and revamped it for FCSO’s use.
Since leaving the facility, FCSO has moved personnel to other areas, including the section of the county jail which was used by FCSO before the Ops Center was built.
Staly says his agency plans to hire a consultant to review the ESi report, while county officials plan to have the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta review the same report.