Tag Archives: st. petersburg times

Fla. group home’s sex policy raises questions

St. Petersburg Times reporter Justin George has painstakingly assembled the story of a group home for developmentally disabled adult men in Florida which, George writes, “enacted a bold and unorthodox policy permitting sex between residents.” Many of the men in the home were sex offenders and, according to experts, the policy created “a sexually charged atmosphere that may have encouraged sexual assaults.”

While this may sound more like a story for the crime and justice beat, keep in mind that the center “received approximately $100,000 in Medicaid funding per person annually for most residents,” despite reports that it is in an advanced state of disrepair.

George pulled hundreds of records from numerous government agencies and conducted more than 40 interviews over the course of two years. It shows in his reporting. You should read the full story to understand the breadth and complexity of the issue at hand, but I’ll summarize for the time-challenged.

Center officials regard sex as a basic human right (as the World Health Organization declared in 1975) and, in one 2005 case, “staff wrote that they could not evaluate whether Kevin was learning appropriate sexual behavior because his mother wouldn’t let him have sex with other campus men,” George found.

Compounding the problem, the state agency that oversees HDC (the group home) did not object to the policy until a whistle-blower complained to a state legislator. An investigation documented multiple instances of improper sexual activity between residents.
HDC officials say that banning sex is not the answer. It would deny basic rights and simply sweep the issue under the rug, a response they say is all too common when dealing with sex abusers.
But two years later, the state still has not written an official policy concerning sex in group homes. The whistle-blower was fired, and the mentally disabled man at the center of the controversy is stuck in a facility that he — like other men there — is desperate to leave.

After it learned of George’s investigation, the state finally set out to draft a policy for sex in state-run group homes, and perhaps for private homes as well.

A draft of one policy would ensure that sexually aggressive residents don’t room with anyone else, but it doesn’t prohibit sexual activity in group homes unless the disabled are children. Prohibiting adult sex might violate civil rights, Palecki said.
The Human Development Center’s revised policy on sexual behavior states it will not promote sexual activity among residents. Condoms will still be available, but only if competent adults ask for them.

George also tells the stories of two women who lost their jobs after speaking out about the situation and suspicions that a resident has been unable to move to a different home because his mother has cooperated with an investigation.

Florida pill mills spread, resist prosecution

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)

Foundation lived by big pharma, now dies by big pharma

Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the Ischemia Research and Education Foundation, which maintained a massive patient care database intended to prevent heart attacks and strokes during and after surgery, is teetering on the brink of financial collapse. While his foundation relied on drug company grants for much of its funding, “monumentally stubborn and notoriously prickly” founder and leader Dr. Dennis Mangano insisted on IREF’s right to publish any and all of its findings, a move he said maintained its independence.

Despite its ties to pharmaceutical companies, Mangano’s foundation made some impressive discoveries, Hundley lists a few highlights:

He found that taking low-cost aspirin after bypass surgery reduces the risk of heart attack. He sounded the alarm about the deadly risks of using Bayer’s drug Trasylol to control bleeding during bypass surgery — nearly two years before the FDA suspended marketing of the drug.

And he warned that Pfizer’s painkiller, Bextra, raised the risk of heart attack and stroke in bypass patients. Bextra was pulled from the market in 2005.

The relationship between pharmaceutical companies and IREF seems to have always been an uneasy one. IREF’s recent troubles began when a rogue employee shared data with Pfizer for which the drug giant would otherwise have had to pay $15 million to $20 million. Mangano refused to settle with the company, instead taking it to court and winning damages totaling almost $60 million.

Now, a judge’s ruling has given Pfizer a second chance and Mangano says he can’t afford to match Pfizer’s resources in the courtroom a second time. He says his suit against Pfizer has made him a “persona non grata” in the pharmaceutical industry and thus cut off what used to be the foundation’s primary source of funding. IREF has gone from 80 employees to just three, and is bleeding money at an unsustainable rate.

Politifact, AP fact check health care claims

Angie Drobnic Holan, writing on the St. Petersburg Times‘ Politifact site, has composed a point-by-point debunking of a lengthy anti-reform chain e-mail that’s been circulating in recent days. Among the e-mail’s claims about the bill: self-insuring employers will all be audited, health care will be rationed, the “Health Choices Commissioner” will make all decisions for you, leaving you with no input, illegal immigrants will get free health care, union retirees and community organizers will get subsidized health care and eligible folks will be automatically enrolled in Medicaid whether they like it or not.

Politifact also rates a few of the e-mail’s claims as “barely true” or “half true,” including the conversion of the general recommendations of the government’s health advisory committee to “a government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get” and the repackaging of electronic medical records-related goals as “Every person will be issued a National ID Healthcard.” Many of the assertions made in the e-mail were based on blogger and tweeter Peter Fleckenstien, who posted his rebuttal here.

In another Truth-o-meter post, Politifact reports that U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (Mo.-D) misquoted the Congressional Budget Office about cost of health care reform plan during a recent town hall meeting.

Charles Babington of The Associated Press also is debunking confusing claims and distortions about the health care reform bill. Among the claims he focuses on:

  • House Republican Leader John Boehner’s claim that it will lead to government-encouraged euthanasia
  • Reform will lead to government-funded abortions.
  • Americans won’t have to change doctors or insurance companies.
  • Reform will lead to rationing, or the government determining which medical procedures a patient can have.
  • Overhauling health care will not expand the federal deficit over the long term.

Why Canada’s system does and doesn’t work

Susan Taylor Martin of the St. Petersburg Times explored Canada’s universal health care system, seeking to dispel rumors and misconceptions and explain the good (cheap, efficient) and bad (waiting lists) of a much-debated but rarely explained system. Each Canadian province has its own system, and rates are set through negotiations between medical organizations and local physicians.
The example of Dr. Diane Normandin, in particular, showed the stark contrast in efficiency between the American system and the Canadian one.

She moved to Clearwater, Fla., in 1994 because she thought U.S. doctors had more freedom. But she spent an inordinate amount of time trying to tell whether a patient’s insurance covered visits to a particular lab or specialist.
“You had maybe five minutes with the patient but 20 minutes of paperwork and the ridiculous sorting out of where the patient could go,” said Normandin, who needed six employees to handle the workload. “It was crazy.”
She returned to Canada in 2003 and opened a family practice near Montreal. She now has one employee.

Taylor Martin also tackles the word “socialist” and explains the other factors that go into Canada’s much-maligned waiting lists, as well as attempts being made to decrease those delays.

A sidebar focuses on a Canadian cardiologist who joined a practice in Orlando, Fla., because he thought U.S. doctors had more freedom. He also eventually returned to Canada and is  now critical of the U.S. system. Among his criticisms: “He found that American doctors tend to order more testing, partly for fear of being sued but also because ‘patients demand it and doctors and hospitals want to do it because it’s more money.'”

Other stories in the project:

(Hat tip to Investigate West)