Tag Archives: florida

Lawsuit reveals failures in hospital hiring practices

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

St. Petersburg Times reporter Curtis Krueger’s story about a successful whistleblower suit against a Florida hospital provides a powerful storyline about how disciplined health care workers continue to get hired. Here, he skips the government agencies and state databases and looks at communication between the hospitals themselves.

After all, don’t hospitals consult references and do background checks when hiring new doctors and nurses? In the corporate world of major hospitals, the answer is apparently “yes, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.”

… in general, (Beth Hardy, a spokeswoman for Morton Plant Mease Hospitals) said, if a hospital calls seeking information about a former employee, the company will simply confirm the worker’s dates of employment and last position held. She said that is “a standard and accepted policy across a lot of large organizations.”

The whistleblower suit itself, which resulted in a $450,000 award, involved a nursing supervisor who was fired soon after she criticized nurse Bernard M. Moran for falsifying records, a practice which got him fired at a previous job. Moran now works at another area hospital, one which says it checks the disciplinary records of all new hires.

The story only came to light because of the lawsuit. To understand just how many blind eyes were turned toward Moran’s behavior during this series of events, just take a look at Krueger’s story.

(Hat tip to Health News Florida)

Florida pill mills spread, resist prosecution

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

With South Florida beginning to crack down, the pain pill mills that fuel the Appalachian drug trade are moving northward. Kate Howard and Paul Pinkham of the Florida Times-Union report that the trade, which has ravaged Appalachia for a decade and exploded in recent years, has hit Jacksonville with a vengeance. There are more than 50 pain clinics in the area, and they even tell stories of 20-something clinic owners and physicians driving sports cars and intimidating each other in competition for the lucrative out-of-state trade. Florida’s first statewide steps to combat the trade haven’t yet taken hold, the duo writes.

After years of trying, Florida became the 39th state to pass a prescription monitoring bill last year, but it wasn’t funded. Amid lingering questions about its potential effectiveness, the database was slated to launch in December with $500,000 raised through grants and private funding, but is now on hold because of a bid dispute.

Even if Florida does succeed in stopping the pill mills, there are fears that tough legislation will just push the problem into neighboring (and less regulated) Georgia.

Why is it so hard to crack down on pill mills?

Across the state, Letitia Stein and Susan Taylor Martin of the St. Petersburg Times explore what makes it so impossible to shut down the handful of rogue doctors who can each put thousands of pills a day into the hands of abusers. In some ways, it’s similar to other disciplined doctors stories we’ve been seeing lately, as it carefully details the administrative wasteland that stands between local doctors and actual punishment for their actions. Cases languish for an average of 18 months, there is not always consistent communication between enforcement agencies, and disciplinary board members say they don’t have the legal power to search for problem doctors.

“The biggest problem is. we can’t discipline anybody unless a complaint is filed,” said Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist on the Board of Medicine. “And drug addicts aren’t about to complain about their drug dealer.”

Stein and Martin looked at about 200 Florida doctors who had been disciplined or investigated for inappropriately prescribing pain pills in the past five years, and found that more than a quarter still have active licenses. Most of them are experienced doctors with specialty certifications, and some practice despite being convicted of crimes or linked to fatal overdoses.

And Florida’s new legislative crackdown on pill mills? The reporters say it specifically targets pain clinics, yet rogue physicians often operate out of other settings.

(Hat tip to Carol Gentry of Health News Florida)

Tougher concussion rules from high school assn.

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has released tougher rules about removing players with potential concussions from the field. The initial release outlines the changes:


Photo by Les_Stockton via Flickr

The previous rule directed officials to remove an athlete from play if “unconscious or apparently unconscious.” The previous rule also allowed for return to play based on written authorization by a medical doctor. Now, officials are charged with removing any player who shows signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion, such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems, and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate health-care professional.

The Tampa Tribune‘s Mary Shedden and Katherine Smith reported on how the change would affect Florida high school football and on how implementations of the new rule vary from district to district.

Language in the new rule is vague, stating a player can’t return until cleared by a “health-care representative.” In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, players will need a doctor’s clearance, but Pasco officials may interpret the rule to include medical officials who were at the game, said Phil Bell, Pasco’s supervisor of athletic programs and facilities.

The best-known guidelines for returning to the game come from a sports medicine expert consortium in Zurich. It recommends athletes gradually return to activities, from light aerobic activity to noncontact drills to game day. Each step takes a minimum of 24 hours, and if symptoms return, an athlete must revert to the previous step.

Texas, Oregon and Washington have state laws mandating when players should be taken off the field; many other states rely on their athletic associations to format such rules. With the school year and football season getting under way, this would be a good time for reporters to check on the policies at local schools. Read more about concussions, including some recent reports and Congressional testimony.

New project covers health care in Florida

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A health journalism project has launched in Tampa, Fla., supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, reports the Tampa Tribune [see second story on the linked page].

The Healthy State Collaborative Local Journalism Center is a two-year project “aimed at strengthening collaboration among six public broadcasting stations geographically centered in Florida,” according to its website. Those stations are WUSF-Tampa, WEDU-Tampa, WMNF-Tampa, WGCU-Fort Myers, WMFE-Orlando and WUFT-Gainesville.healthystate-org

The site will offer health care coverage through audio, text, video, photos, blogs, social networking, dynamic syndication and mobile applications and hopes to engage a younger, well-educated audience.

Jennifer Molina, formerly of Newsweek.com, is the project’s executive editor. Her staff will include a multimedia manager, a community engagement specialist, and five reporters, each assigned to a participating station. According to the Tampa Tribune report, Molina is in the process of hiring reporters.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting issued a call for grant proposals “from groups of 3-6 stations willing to form multi-platform reporting Local Journalism Centers around a single topic or issue that will result in an elevated quality and quantity of journalism.”

In announcing the initiative, Patricia Harrison, CEO and president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said the centers were intended to “enhance public media’s ability to meet the information needs of local communities at a time when access to high quality, original reporting is declining.”

The project is one of seven in the country to develop news coverage of an issue relevant to each region. [Video of the announcement of the programs.]

Winning work: Swine flu, costs and mental health

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the SPJ’s 2010 Sunshine State Awards, AHCJ members made their presence felt in the “Medical/Health Care/Science Reporting” category, where they snagged two of the three spots.

The Miami Herald; John Dorschner; Healthcare costs
“Thanks to Dorschner’s detail-oriented reporting, readers of The Miami Herald learned just how much a 45-hour hospital stay for thyroid treatment might cost. Dorschner did not stop there either, confronting the hospital with the charges and asking them to justify the expenses – which they declined to do.”

The Palm Beach Post; Stacey Singer; Swine flu
“So many stories were written about swine flu in 2009 but few of them provided the human details and intimate touches of Stacey Singer’s reports. She introduces us to the people who were deeply affected by the flu, especially the expectant mothers and their children who were most vulnerable to it. She tells their stories with vivid, insightful details.”

In Mental Health America’s Awards for Excellence in Coverage, Portrayals of Mental Health Issues David Jackson pulled in the investigative reporting award for the Compromised Care series he did with Gary Marx. Read The Chicago Tribune‘s full package here. AHCJ members can read an article about how they reported the story.