ACLU: State failed to warn public of health dangers of toxic algae bloom

The American Civil Liberties of Florida is taking aim at the state, saying it failed to adequately warn the public of the health dangers related to toxic algae blooms on the Treasure Coast communities last year.

The ACLU on Wednesday issued the report, “Tainted Waters: Threats to Public Health and the People’s Right to Know,” concluding blue-green algae have not been sufficiently researched by the state.

The Palm Beach Post last year published a story on a group of prominent researchers have tied blue-green algae to neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and ALS. To read that story click here.

Algae formed around the Herbert Hoover Dam on Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8, 2016. The algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee has grown since it was first measured in May. Environmentalists believe it stretched more than 200 square miles. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

The ACLU report was written by former Palm Beach Post investigative reporter John Lantigua.

“Open government means people have a right to be informed about what public officials and employees are doing, and that information is particularly crucial when it comes to public health issues,” Lantigua said. “What we found was a lack of urgency and transparency on the part of the state in reporting information about the crisis, caused by the release of tainted waters from Lake Okeechobee.”

The algae bloom in the St. Lucie River and its estuary certainly appeared and smelled toxic. It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

His report quotes scientists concerned that the state provided no public warning about the threat to downriver communities. The state tested waters where toxins where the algae were least concentrated, as well, the report states.

It also notes a task force created by state law in 1999 to monitor and mitigate the effects of algae blooms has not been funded since 1999.

The ACLU’s full report is available here: www.aclufl.org/taintedwaters

Butt lift doctor banned after patient dies

A controversial South Florida plastic surgeon is temporarily banned from performing any more procedures after a woman died undergoing liposuction.

Dr. Osak Omuleupu’s license was revoked by the Board of Medicine in April, but he has been fighting the state action on appeal. A judge now has stepped in to prohibit him from surgery until the matter is resolved, according to the Department of Health.

The Miami Herald has reported that Omulepu’s advertised specialty is liposuction and fat transfers to the buttocks — a procedure known as a “Brazilian butt lift.”

Health Department Spokesman Brad Dalton told television station News 6 in Orlando that it took a second motion Monday by the Department to impose conditions.

“We are waiting for a final resolution of that motion, but during this time Dr. Omulepu shall not perform plastic surgery procedures and shall have a board-certified physician present for any other medical procedures,” Dalton said.

Lattia Baumeister, 30, of  Illinois, was undergoing a cosmetic procedure Thursday morning at the Seduction Cosmetic Center in the Miami suburb of Doral when she experienced a medical emergency, according to police.

Osakatukei Omulepu is a Miami plastic surgeon accused of seriously injuring four patients in May 2015. His has been temporarily banned from performing surgery after a patient died last week.

She later died at  Kendall Regional Medical Center.

“Dr. Omulepu is absolutely devastated by the complication that occurred in this case,” his attorney, Monica Rodriguez, said in a statement. “This is the first patient death he has had. Although what happened has been widely documented as a complication of the procedure the patient underwent, it is not a situation any surgeon wants to have.”

In February 2016, the state issued an order of emergency restriction of license filed against Omulepu, who has been associated with numerous cosmetic surgery centers. The order came after Omulepu was accused of botching medical procedures of patients in 2015 that resulted in hospitalizations from three days to three months.

The order came after Omulepu was accused of botching medical procedures– such as not using the right anesthesia — on patients in 2015 that resulted in hospitalizations from three days to three months.

Steven Rosenberg, a Palm Beach dermatologist and a member of the Florida Board of Medicine that regulates doctors, told the Miami Herald that he was “frustrated” that Omulepu was still performing surgery because of the appeal process.

“We revoke a doctor’s license and the judges override it,” Rosenberg said. He noted that the appeal process can drag out while physicians continue to practice and potentially place patients at risk. Omulepu’s medical license on file with the Florida health department is listed as “clear/active.”

Omulepu is also a defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit in Miami-Dade circuit court alleging that he permanently disfigured a woman who underwent a breast augmentation and a revision in 2015, the Herald reports.

Rosmery Diaz of Miami began vomiting blood and feeling extreme pain shortly after the first surgery. She was also bleeding and her breasts began to spread outward, the complaint alleges.

To read the whole News 6 story click here.

To read the whole Herald story click here,

 

More Trauma Drama: Hospital pushes back on expansion in Jax

Does the trauma drama never end?

After a bill to expand trauma centers once again failed in the state Legislature earlier this year, a new legal fight is underway in Jacksonville that could affect how catastrophic injuries are dealt with throughout the state.

UF Health Jacksonville has challenged a state decision to give preliminary approval to a new trauma facility at a rival hospital, according to the News Service of Florida.

The Florida Department of Health decision last month gave what is known as “provisional” approval for a trauma center at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, according to documents filed in the case.

UF Health Jacksonville also has been in a legal battle over a state decision to allow a trauma center to open at Orange Park Medical Center in nearby Clay County.

The argument by existing trauma centers is that by opening new ones it dilutes the needed medical expertise necessary to respond to these life-threatening injuries. State law caps the number of trauma centers statewide at 44.

In Palm Beach County, there are two Level 1 trauma centers at St. Mary’s Medical Center and Delray Medical Center. The Health Care District of Palm Beach County runs the trauma system, though.

These hospitals pushed back on efforts by JFK Medical Center in Atlantis to open up a trauma center last year.

Read the whole News Service of Florida story by clicking here.

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.

Update: County Health official: Zika-related birth defects to increase

Sick of hearing about Zika already? Get used to it as more birth defects related to the virus are expected in 2017 in Florida and throughout the U.S.

This summer, there will be a full-court press by health officials against Zika.

“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, head of the Palm Beach County Health Department, in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

“The main emphasis again is going to be on pregnant women. The CDC expects to see a 20-fold higher proportion of Zika-affected birth defects compared to those that were seen in the 2013-14, before Zika came to the Americas.”

Before 2014, there were three cases of Zika-caused microcephaly for every 1,000 births. That number is now up to 60 cases per 1,000. “That’s a large increase,” Alonso said.

Dr. Alina Alonso, head of the Palm Beach County Health Department says pregnant women with Zika are being tracked.

Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than normal.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released a report that 15 of infants were born with birth defects in pregnancies with a confirmed Zika virus infection in the first trimester. “These findings highlight why pregnant women should avoid Zika virus exposure,” the report stated.

The CDC suggest that because the full effects of the virus is unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen.

So as the summer comes barreling down the calendar, the focus of health officials will be on the mosquito-borne virus that causes severe birth defects. More than 2,000 cases have been recorded in Florida.

Alonso said she dispatched teams last summer that went door-to-door in neighborhoods about Zika. “We were very pro-active,” she said. “I expect to see more cases because the mosquito is already established here in our environment.”

The Aedes aegypti is the main culprit that carries Zika. It also can transmit dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever and yellow fever viruses.

The Health Department will work with doctors to continue a registry of pregnant women who are positive with Zika. “We will see if they have healthy babies or affected babies,” she said.

Alonso said the best prevention, of course, would be a vaccine, but until then citizens have to practice prevention whether it is draining standing water or using repellant. About 80 percent of people who contract the virus don’t exhibit any symptoms of fever, rash, body aches. But for those that do, Zika can have serious, even neurological, consequences.

Zika can be transmitted through sexual activity, so Alonso suggests the use of condoms or abstaining from sex for people who have traveled to infected areas in the Caribbean and South America.

And Alonso doesn’t shy away from the fact that Zika can cost the state plenty.

“Because it is affecting pregnant women, it is affecting our tourism. It is very important,” she said.

Last week Gov. Rick Scott held a news conference with Alonso to talk about efforts to combat Zika. With serious tourist dollars at stake, Scott can claim some initial victories.

He has called on the CDC for advice and assistance. A Zika hotline was created. Lab testing capacity was expanded. He has demanded more money from Washington. He used emergency power to release $61 million from the general fund for research, prevention and response. Mailers were sent out to residents in multiple languages.

Researchers are working furiously to find a vaccine.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has announced that vaccination trials have begun using an experimental DNA serum.

The trial aims to enroll at least 2,490 healthy participants in areas of confirmed or potential active mosquito-transmitted Zika infection, including the continental United States and Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

“A safe and effective Zika vaccine is urgently needed to prevent the often-devastating birth defects that can result from Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said on March 31.

“Evidence also is accumulating that Zika can cause a variety of health problems in adults as well. This trial marks a significant milestone in our efforts to develop countermeasures for a pandemic in progress.”

 

Gov. Rick Scott may be the mosquito’s worst enemy.

 

Moving on up: Palm Beach County now the 8th healthiest in the state

Palm Beach County got it’s annual physical and the news was good.

Diverse and with a population of 1.4 million, Palm Beach County moved up to No. 8. It has moved up one slot each of the last two years and health officials say it shows that wellness programs by the Department of Health are working.

All the other counties ahead of them have far less population.

The  2017 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to give a snapshot of health across the country.

The researchers look at physical environments, social and economic factors, health behaviors and clinical care.

“These rankings are a testament to the hard work and commitment our community partners have toward assuring a healthy community,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, Director, Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County.

Dr. Alina Alonso, director of Department of Health in Palm Beach County, has gotten healthier as well in the last few years.

Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Healthcare Foundation, said programs such as Let’s Move, Diabetes Month and Healthier Together have paid off with healthier citizens.

He pointed to Joshua Timmer, a 14-year-old from St. Ann’s Catholic School in downtown West Palm Beach who took it upon himself to bring the Let’s Move program — a Palm Healthcare initiative – to his classmates. The program encourages 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day to combat obesity.

Joshua told The Palm Beach Post’s for a story earlier this month that he wanted to get kids moving who play a lot of video games.

On Wednesday, Joshua said between classes he was thrilled with the county’s ranking but wants to get people moving around the world.

He said it wasn’t easy putting down the video games at first.

“It was a hard change,” he said. “At the beginning, I wanted to play more video games, but then I realized I got stuff to do and I need to do more stuff outside.”

These days he plays basketball with his sibling and golf. “I do at least 30 minutes outside every day,” he said.

McNamara said it was Timmer and residents like him that moved the needle for Palm Beach County in the right direction.

“He was just an example of a resident taking it upon himself to be part of the solution,” he said. “One of the affirming things for us is that we are seeing growing numbers like him.”

Timmons is not alone. Andrea Bruton, the owner of SkyeHigh Fitness, leads an exercise program for older women in the black community in Delray Beach.

“Let’s Move has already made such a positive difference, such as bringing people and communities together–groups that would never otherwise mingle and building great rapport between the community and law enforcement,” she said.

The program gets companies, schools, colleges, non-profits, local community groups, families, to organize a team whose members log the minutes they have “moved” and compete against each.

Let’s Move is held each March for the entire month.

So let’s look at the numbers of the county’s annual checkup.

We got good numbers in the category of “health behavior” be it smoking tobacco or drinking excessively, ranking third among all Florida’s 67 counties. We landed in the top 10 in Life Expectancy (9) and Clinical Care (9).

Palm Beach County did get seem dings. It ranked 19th in Social and Economic Factors, such as income inequality and violent crime. It also ranked 32nd in “Physical Environment” that measures everything from pollution to driving alone to work.

We are lonely commuters, it appears.

Dr. Anthony N. Dardano, the vice president for Medical and Academic Affairs at Delray Medical Center.

The hospitals see it from a different perspective. They see a community benefiting greatly from the Charles E Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University which spins out doctors in training to five hospitals.

“It is kind of known fact whenever you have academic institution affiliated with a hospital provider that elevates the level care,” said Dr. Anthony N. Dardano, the vice president for Medical and Academic Affairs at Delray Medical Center.

He also said that increase the quality of care and cutting-edge medical care are due to the elderly population.

So next time you shake your fist at a senior maybe driving too slow think that he or she is to thank for heart surgery techniques not available in other counties and a host of other specialties that are available when it comes to treating cancer and brain disorders.

“The average age of a patient at Delray Medical Center is in the 80s,” Dardano said. “They are sicker people and in order to keep up we have developed state of the art techniques and have recruited physicians who can do all these specialties.”

 

Legislature looks to allow more trauma centers

Another day at the state Legislature and another proposed bill pitting hospitals against each other.

The News Service of Florida reports that SB 746 filed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, would eliminate the caps on the number of trauma centers statewide.

The bill comes on the heels of another proposed law that would get rid of the requirement that hospitals show a community need to expand or add a specialized program.

And like that bill, this one has the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott, a former healthcare executive. Scott has called for getting rid of a limit of 44 trauma centers statewide.

Proponents of more trauma centers argue getting rid of caps will result in less time needed to transport injured people for care. Critics say these facilities require highly trained medical staffs and that adding new centers will siphon patients and staff from existing trauma centers.

St. Mary’s Medical Center and Delray Medical Center — run by Tenet Healthcare — are Palm Beach County’s state-designated Level 1 trauma centers, handling the most extreme cases. Right now the average time to get a patient to one of these centers is eight minutes.

borrego-photo
Dr. Robert Borrego, medical director of the Trauma Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center, says most trauma surgeons would be opposed to lifting caps on the number of trauma centers in the state.

Dr. Robert Borrego, medical director of the Trauma Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said it is important that trauma centers have a certain number of patients to remain proficient.

“Can you imagine coming to a center and you have traumatic brain injury and the neurosurgeons only do about 10 operations a year? Are you going to comfortable there or do you want somebody who does 1,000 operations a year?”

Hutson’s bill was introduced after an administrative law judge’s ruling last week that the state Health Department had improperly allowed Orange Park Medical Center in Clay County to open a trauma center in 2016.

Currently, regulations allocate one trauma center to a five-county region of Northeast Florida and UF Health Jacksonville was not keen on the Clay County trauma center.

St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 5, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach is one of two Trauma Centers in Palm Beach County.

Hospital competition in Florida is already at a fever pitch. A trauma center gives a hospital one more way to advertise, attract medical talent and raise its profile — not to mention it looks really nifty on a billboard.

Palm Beach County is hardly immune to trauma drama.

JFK Medical Center in Atlantis filed a letter of intent with the Department of Health on Sept. 30 to establish a Level 2 trauma center that would accept only adult patients.

Tenet, to put it mildly, was not pleased, saying a JFK trauma center would undercut a system in place for 25 years.

“This action threatens the entire care system in our county,” stated the letter on the issue by Tenet.