Facing questioning, guardian Savitt resigns from controversial case

When it came to deceased senior Frances Berkowitz, professional guardian Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt appeared ready to fight until the bitter end despite efforts to remove her from her position.

But last week she was ready to not only resign as guardian for the late Berkowitz, but as personal representative of the estate. However, the heirs to Berkowitz’s depleted estate wouldn’t let her completely off a hook at a court on Wednesday.

>> $400,000 allegedly missing in case of professional guardian Savitt

Savitt’s decision came after she sidestepped a scheduled deposition on May 23  to answer questions at the behest of a New York family who the court has determined is the rightful heir to Berkowitz’s estate. Savitt sought a protective order to keep from answering questions.

Elizabeth Savitt appears at a court hearing to discuss attorney fees in, August 2015. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

And there are plenty of questions for Savitt.

The former attorneys for Berkowitz tried to remove Savitt, saying they were concerned as much as $400,000 was missing from the guardianship. Savitt has denied that any money is missing.

They also told the court that Savitt cost Berkowitz hundreds of thousands of dollars by failing to properly litigate against a caregiver and other parties — including a bank and a Miami lawyer — who took $1.2 million from the senior under false pretenses, court documents allege.

>> RELATED: Guardianships: A Broken Trust

However, Circuit Judge Howard Coates last year found that the attorneys lacked standing to challenge anything that happened in the guardianship once Savitt was appointed.

Savitt used Berkowitz’s money to sue the former lawyers — Webb Millsaps and Donna Solomon Greenspan — to recoup fees that Savitt claims were excessive.  Still pending is a defamation lawsuit filed by Millsaps and Solomon against one of Savitt’s attorneys, as well as an appeal of Coates’ decisions.

At a May 24 court hearing, the lawyer representing Berkowitz’s heirs, the Kerner family, accepted Savitt’s resignation as a personal representative of the estate but said he wouldn’t let her out of her fiduciary duty as a guardian of Berkowitz’s property just yet.

Attorney John Carter also wouldn’t agree to allow Savitt to forgo the final guardianship accounting of her activity in the Berkowitz case. Savitt’s attorney said there is no money left, but Carter said he has seen no such proof that is the case.

“I want to make sure I don’t waive any rights the Berkowitz heirs have to recoup expenses and fees and wasting of assets intentionally or otherwise caused by Ms. Savitt’s professional guardianship,” said Carter.

The Kerner family has sought to remove Savitt as personal representative since they learned in January of Berkowitz’s death on Dec. 31. The Kerners have asserted in court that Savitt misrepresented to the court that there were no rightful heirs to serve as personal representative even though she knew there were family members who could serve in that capacity.

A Savitt attorney has repeatedly pointed out that the main heir to Berkowitz’s estate is facing murder charges for killing the late senior’s sister and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.  Another Kerner family member has stepped up to replace Savitt as personal representative, however.

With the deposition pending, Savitt’s attorney filed a motion for a protective order to keep her from answering questions about her activity in the Berkowitz case, saying the professional guardian is entitled to be protected from “annoyance, embarrassment, oppression and undue burden.”

Berkowitz is just one of Savitt’s guardianships in turmoil as families have repeatedly complained about her. Foremost among the complaints was that Savitt took tens of thousands of dollars in fees prior to judicial approval.

Savitt’s actions were reported in The Palm Beach Post’s series, Guardianship: A Broken Trust. She points out that she has never been removed from a guardianship or sanctioned by a judge.

After the first stories ran, her husband, Martin Colin, announced his retirement as a circuit judge.  Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath then handed down guardianship reforms, many of which addressed family’s complaints about Savitt.

Could a Zika vaccine be too expensive?

One thing is for certain, where there is a pandemic, there is money to be made.

A French pharmaceutical company will do the final testing for a Zika vaccine developed last year by the U.S. Army at taxpayer expense, National Public Radio is reporting. If the testing goes well, the company will set the price for the U.S. market.

The question is: Will state governments be able to afford the French company’s asking price for a vaccine that U.S. Army helped bring to fruition?

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s secretary of health, told NPR that her state is in the middle of a financial crisis and is looking at cutting money allocated to fight the Zika virus carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti — the B-52 of mosquitos.

“God forbid we have a Zika outbreak,” she told NPR.

The virus can inflict devastating birth defects for fetuses, including microencephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and small heads. More birth defects related to the virus are expected in 2017 in Florida and throughout the U.S.

The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida in 2016 was 1,384. The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida for 2017 so far is 18.

Mosquito spraying was stepped up last summer once Zika hit Florida. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen until a vaccine can be marketed.

The U.S. Army plans to grant an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. to manufacture and sell the vaccine after it testing. Gee said the French pharmaceutical giant could set a price that is too high for states like Louisianna.

NPR reports that Gee is just one among a growing number of public officials and activists expressing concern. They want Sanofi to agree in writing to show restraint when it sets the price for the vaccine.

Doctors without Borders and Knowledge Ecology International have asked the Army to delay granting Sanofi the exclusive license until the company agrees to reasonable price terms. Former Democratic Presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have

Former Democratic Presidential candidateU.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have also asked the Army to get such a guarantee.

“If the American public funds the life-saving intervention, we need price protections for states that have to foot the bill,” Gee says.

Louisianna is in such a tight financial bind, Gee says, lawmakers will have to choose between funding for K-12 education and the Zika vaccine.

Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit public interest group, said the inventors of the vaccine are all federal employees whose salaries are paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Furthermore, the U.S. Army did all the Phase I research and testing so there is no research and development cost to Sanofi.

Sanofi told NPR that it has incurred a substantial cost, dedicating 60 scientists full time to the Zika vaccine.

If plans remain, the Department of Health and Human Services will give Sanofi $43 million for a Phase II trial. This will determine the success rate of the vaccine and any side-effects. If the vaccine passes, then the agency will then give another $130 million to Sanofi for a Phase III trial.

To read all of the NPR story on the Health News Florida website, click here.

Hey, it’s all protein. You unwittingly eat insects all the time

A friend once told me when he lived in the Middle East as a child, he would find cockroaches in his Cheerios and Frosted Flakes all the time.

He said at first, the cereal ended up immediately in the trash. After awhile, he’d just pick out the bugs and pour himself a bowl. Eventually, he just ignored the bugs. “Hey, it’s all protein,” the friend said, delivering the punch line of what was a joke disguised as a travelogue.

But the fact is, Americans eat bugs all the time. You may have just eaten some insects for lunch.

The Food & Drug Administration allows for certain levels of bugs and other contaminants in food because largely insects generally don’t pose a health a risk.

So what does the FDA allow?

Pasta can contain up to 225 insect fragments. One percent of your chocolate can contain insect parts. That cup of raisins can have up to 33 fruit fly eggs. Spinach can have up to 50 aphids per 100 grams.

And you don’t want to know about a 3.5 ounce can of mushrooms. Too late: one can is allowed to have nine maggots and 74 mites. Maggots aren’t exactly naked to the human eye, FDA.

The FDA has previously confirmed there may be up to an “average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams” of peanut butter and an “average of one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.”

You can check out the whole agency’s bug-friendly list by clicking here.

Americans are so grossed out about bugs as food, eating insects are used as crazed feats on shows like Fear Factor. In 2004, the Palm Beach Post interviewed Kelly Crosby-Heyniger of West Palm Beach who got a spot on the show by eating a 7-inch worm for her audition tape.

“I chewed him instead of swallowing, and I smiled really big for the camera to show all the dirt I had in my teeth,” she said.

For eating? “Yes.” For soup? “Yes.” For sandwich? “Yes.” (Photo by Quinn Comendant/Creative Commons)

Intrepid Palm Beach Post reporter Susan Salisbury has been all over the nexus of insects and food like DDT for years.

In 2013, she wrote about how the yogurt king Dannon was under fire by a consumer group to stop using, as Salisbury put it, “critter-based dye.” Insects are also part of lipstick, shampoo, and other products which often have a red-hued.

Salisbury also interviewed in 2015 Penn State University food science professor on how insects could be part of a nutritious diet.

Florida is known for its insects, and Floridians spend millions trying to kill many of them, whether it’s roaches, ants or termites.

Penn State University food science professor  John Coupland, suggested to start out slow and work your way up to bigger creepy-crawlies.

“I don’t think your entry-level insect needs to be a fried cockroach,” said Coupland, who is also a spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists.  “Try and eat something that doesn’t look like an insect, to begin with.”

 He suggested suggests catching a cricket, cleaning it, drying it out and grinding it up.  “There is a huge range of bugs that can be eaten,” he said.

But, of course, just because bugs can be eaten doesn’t mean they should be crawling over your restaurant dish. Consumers should be very concerned with restaurants which have a cockroach problem, the Post reported in February.

Insects can be a nutritious part of your diet, Penn State professor says.

If you are bugged out about bugs as food, you are being a little American-centric.

CBS affiliate, WESH-TV, in Orlando notes that Spencer Michaels, reporting for the PBS News Hour, found that 80 percent of the world’s population eats insects as a regular part of their diet.

Scientists have identified  1,700 of the 1.1 million species of insects are edible. And yes, they contain lots of protein, hardly any fat and do not cause the types of illnesses caused by eating beef or pork.

 

News Chocolate Lovers Can Literally Take to Heart

Eating chocolate moderately — note the word moderately, now — can significantly lower risk of being diagnosed with a common and dangerous type of irregular heartbeat, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published Tuesday in Heart.

The new findings add to the consensus of previous studies that suggested cocoa — particularly dark chocolate — is yummy as well as good for the heart muscle. The new findings shed light on atrial fibrillation for the first time.

“Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” said Elizabeth Mostofsky, instructor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard.

The study included 55,502 men and women participating in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Heath Study.

“Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed by the study participants likely had relatively low concentrations of potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a significant association between eating chocolate and a lower risk of AF,” Mostofsky said.

To read more on the study click here.

Could disabled children be collateral damage in education bill fight?

The Florida’s Legislature secret effort to steer more money to private charter schools, virtual education and home schooling have resulted in political heat on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the sweeping education bill.

But could disabled children be collateral damage?

The Associated Press reports that tucked in the 300-pages of HB 7069 is $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship Program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. By all accounts, it’s a wonderful program that helps autistic and other disabled children.

Gov. Rick Scott

But Scott is under pressure to reject the bill by school superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck.”

GOP lawmakers wrote the bill largely in secret to steer away money from public education. Scott has not indicated what he will do.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, told The AP that legislative leaders crafted the legislation to include the disabled scholarship program in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, told the AP that lawmakers need to separate out the scholarship program.

“I beg Gov. Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

To read the full AP story click here.

(Feature image by Christos Doulkeridis through Creative Commons)

Medical marijuana: State just says no to buds for vaping

Well, that didn’t take long.

In Florida’s quest to keep people from smoking medical marijuana, the state Department of Health ordered an operator to stop selling “whole-flower” products to be used in vaporizers, according to the News Service of Florida.

The Health Department sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trulieve after news reports in the last few days about the sales of the whole flower marijuana in pre-made cups to be used in its volcano vaporizing device.

Whole-flower is the natural form of the marijuana plant, the buds that recreational smokers traditionally have used for decades.

The fear among some was that the cups could easily be dismantled and the whole-flower marijuana smoked in pipes, bongs, or joints — not allowed for patients under Florida’s current medical-marijuana laws.

Only those with a doctor’s approval and on the state’s list can buy from Trulieve, which sells other cannabis products for vaping that is not whole-flower marijuana. It has five stores throughout the state and is one of a handful operating medical marijuana dispensaries currently.

“Licensed dispensing organizations have a responsibility to ensure their product is not one that can easily be transitioned into a smokable form. Therefore, whole flower products are not permitted,” state Office of Compassionate Use Director Christian Bax wrote to Trulieve on Monday.

“Given the above facts, Trulieve is hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist sale of its Entourage product,” Bax wrote.

 

This all comes in front of the backdrop of the Legislature’s failure the last session to come up with a law to implement a constitutional amendment establishing medical marijuana in Florida approved by 72 percent of the voters last year.

The Health Department has to come up with rules governing new medical marijuana dispensaries by mid-summer and implemented by October.

Lawmakers have come up against smoking medical marijuana, saying it is unhealthy but John Morgan — the Orlando trial lawyer who largely bankrolled what was known as Amendment 2 — has pledged to sue the state over the smoking issue.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, in a statement, said the company was surprised by the letter but is “immediately and completely complying with the department’s wishes while evaluating our options.”

Rivers told the News Service last week she believed the product was legal and that her company had been selling whole-flower products for nearly a year.

Advocates, including Rivers, says vaping whole-flower marijuana creates an “entourage” effect that is better medicinally.

The benefits of medical cannabis include relief for chronic pain and muscle spasm. It relieves nausea during chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients. It also has been used for the treatment of Tourette’s syndrome, anorexia, arthritis, migraines, and glaucoma.

Other states, of course, allow the sale of whole-flower medical marijuana.

Whole-flower medical marijuana sold at a dispensary in California. Florida lawmakers don’t want such shops here, saying smoking medical cannabis is unhealthy. Photo: Jeff Ostrowski.

To read the whole News Service of Florida story click here.

 

Medical marijuana law loophole? Store sells buds to vape

As the Florida Legislature passes the buck on instituting rules for medical marijuana dispensaries, a business says it is not breaking any law by selling whole flower marijuana right now that can be vaporized and inhaled.

Trulieve, with five locations now but with plans to expand, says it is not violating state law by selling whole-flower cannabis that can be vaped, for medical necessity, according to a story by News Service of Florida.

Patients must have a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana and go through a process to get into the state program.

The drug comes in a vaporizer cup with the company’s “Volcano Vaporizer,” according to the store’s website. The cups resemble some of the pods used in coffee makers.

And here’s the rub. Vaping pot is allowed under state law but smoking marijuana in a cigarette, pipe or bong remains prohibited.

The medical marijuana dispensary says it is not violating state law by selling the cannabis even though it could be potentially be broken down and made into pot that can be smoked. Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers says the company issue warnings to patients that the product should only be used for vaping.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers says the company issue warnings to patients that the product should only be used for vaping. She has shops in Miami, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Tampa and Clearwater.

Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambinieri said the product was approved by the Office of Compassionate Use.  Medical marijuana supporters have advocated for whole-flower, saying it is better medicinally.

All six of Florida’s distributing organizations that are authorized to sell cannabis have vaping products. Trulieve is the first that is selling a whole-flower product. Other vaping products use cannabis that is ground up.

The Legislature last session failed to come up with a law to implement a constitutional amendment establishing medical marijuana in Florida approved by 72 percent of the voters last year.

That leaves it up to the Department of Health to come up with rules governing medical marijuana dispensaries by mid-summer and implemented by October. Lawmakers have come up against smoking medical marijuana, saying it is unhealthy.

According to the Health Department, 80 percent of cannabis sales are vaping.

John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who was one of the key figures in getting the amendment passed last November, has said he would sue if the new rules did not allow smoking. The rules are supposed to be in place in July and implemented in October.

“For them not to allow smoking, that is the opposite of what the amendment says. The only place where it says it can’t be smoked is public places,” Morgan told The Associated Press.

Judge’s wife Elizabeth Savitt under investigation by new state guardianship office

Elizabeth Savitt, the former judge’s wife and professional guardian who has been the subject of numerous of complaints from families of incapacitated seniors, is being investigated by the state’s new Office of Personal and Professional Guardianship.

The agency is the state’s new watchdog for professional guardians and now has the power under rules adopted this legislative session to discipline them. If the investigation turns up wrongdoing, the penalty can include stripping Savitt of her registration with the state, which could stop her from serving as guardian.

The investigation remains confidential. It is unknown whether it emanates from one or multiple complaints. It could have been filed by a senior in guardianship, a relative or loved one. It could even have emanated from a member of the public or judiciary.

One complaint was filed by the attorney for Daniel Schmidt, the former Boca Raton resident who took care of one of Savitt’s wards, Carla Simmonds, a stroke victim.

Savitt resigned from the case after complaints surfaced when she tried to get a court to allow her access to the stroke victim’s $640,000 trust, which wasn’t part of the guardianship, and a $46,000 retirement account. Schmidt is still fighting attorney fees.

Schmidt said he hopes the complaint to the agency will “have Elizabeth Savitt eradicated from guardianship and to have criminal charges filed against her, her husband and her lawyers.”

Savitt – a tennis instructor by trade before becoming a guardian – has claimed she is being unfairly targeted by disgruntled members of families of those in her guardianships. She has pointed out she has never been removed from a guardianship case by a judge, though she has resigned from them as criticism mounted.

The Palm Beach Post reported on numerous complaints from families about Savitt in its series Guardianship: A Broken Trust in January 2016. More complaints have surfaced since then.

Savitt’s husband, former Circuit Judge Martin Colin, retired last year after the series spelled out his conflict of interest because of his wife’s work as a guardian. Colin and Savitt’s finances were replete with foreclosures, liens, and unpaid debts before she became a guardian in 2011.

The Palm Beach Post is working on a more in-depth piece on the Savitt investigation by the new guardianship office that will run in the print and web editions on Saturday.

 

 

Jupiter Medical wins battle with Legislature over deregulation

Jupiter Medical Center took out full-page ads in this newspaper and others and lobbied lawmakers to keep them from changing the rules on hospital expansion. From the result, it worked.

The Florida Legislature failed to pass one of Gov. Rick Scott’s pet bills that would have eliminated the certificate of need process. Under the certificate of need process, hospitals must show a significant need for the community to expand or move into specialized practice areas.

“The organization’s effort among others played a part in it not coming to a vote in the Senate,” said John Couris, the president and CEO of Jupiter Medical Center.

Thus, Florida remains one of 36 states and the District of Columbia that currently limit entry or expansion of health care facilities through certificate-of-need programs. In Florida, this process extends to acute hospital beds to organ transplants to psychiatric services.

Gov. Scott and House Republicans said getting rid of the certificate of need process would open up competition and lower prices.

But Jupiter Medical Center and other critics said deregulation would actually do the opposite by benefiting big hospital chains who could dictate higher prices and undercut patient pool are that is crucial for doctors to perfect their skills.
Couris said the open letter to the community published in full-page advertisements showed the hospital’s commitment to top-notch care. He said competition is already off-the-charts when it comes to certain areas of medicine, such as heart surgery and maternity care.

“We compete every day in healthcare. South Florida is a hyper-competitive market,” he said. “We were concerned for the consumer, for access, quality and cost.”
Couris reiterated that he isn’t against the free market but when it comes to health care appropriate regulation is necessary. Certificate of need “is appropriate regulation and it works,” he said.

The Legislature also let a bill die when the session ended Friday that would have expanded the number of trauma care centers in Florida. Critics had the same worries that the measure would undercut patient pools and thus hurt performance at existing trauma care centers.
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County monitored the progress of both bills.

Currently, Delray Beach Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical operate Level-1 trauma centers. Both hospitals opposed plans by JFK Medical Center in Atlantis to get into the trauma business last year.

Robin Kish of the Health Care District released a statement on the issue:

“Our position remains constant,” she said. “The Health Care District, which oversees the county’s integrated, lifesaving Trauma System, treated more than 4,000 trauma patients in 2016 and we are committed to delivering the highest quality care so traumatically-injured patients can return to their daily lives.”

 

John Couris, president and CEO, of Jupiter Medical Center.

Medication error melts woman’s face

There are medication errors and then there are medication errors that melt your face.

Khaliah Shaw, 26, said in 2014 she went to a doctor because she felt depressed and received a prescription for the anti-seizure medication lamotrigine. The drug is often marketed in the U.S. as  Lamictal.

A pending lawsuit by her claims she received the wrong dosage of the medication, 11Alive reports. Sometimes anti-seizure medication is used to treat bipolar illness.

Khaliah Shaw found herself in a coma after being given the wrong strength of prescription for her bipolar disorder. Photo courtesy of Khaliah Shaw.

“The goal to spread awareness as much as I can,” Shaw told The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday. “It is difficult being in the spotlight, but I think it is worth it if it means someone is more educated about the medication that they are taking.”

She is not alone. People are suing pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for aggressively promoting Lamictal without fully disclosing its risk of the drug.

The pharmaceutical giant in July 2012 pleaded guilty to criminal negligent charges and paid $3 billion to resolve allegations of fraud and failure to report product safety data for Lamictal.

For Khaliah, after two weeks of using the medication, blisters broke out all of her body.

(WARNING: Graphic Photo)-Read more below

 

“I was in excruciating pain. It felt like I was on fire,” the Georgia woman told Atlanta television station 11Alive. “It essentially causes your body to burn from the inside out and you pretty much just melt.”

She was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome a rare serious skin disorder that is often caused by an allergic reaction to medication. She went from looking like a young vibrant young woman to something out resembling a burn victim.

“I didn’t have to have people staring at me or wondering why I look different,” she said. “Three years ago, my life changed forever.”

Shaw spent five weeks in a medically induced coma. During that time, her skin melted off.

“They’re telling me this could happen again, and they’re telling me if it did happen again, that it would be worse,” said Shaw.

Shaw’s medical bills have reached more than $3.45 million.

“I never heard of Steven Johnson Syndrome until I was in the hospital with my skin melting off of my body. That’s when I learned what it was,” she told 11Alive. “It’s a lesson she says no one should have to learn. “It’s important to know what’s in your body.”

She wants to get the word out to people to be careful about medications.

You can read more about Shaw’s story at her web page including photos at the Journey of a Butterfly by clicking here.

Or read the whole 11Alive report by clicking here.

(Feature photo provided by Khalia Shaw).