Health Care District looks to take on heroin epidemic

As opioid drug overdose deaths increase exponentially, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County — the taxpayer-supported safety net for medical services here — plans to partner up with first responders to help drug abusers in crisis.

Hypodermic needles mixed with cigarette butts and empty prescription bottles found in the trash at a cottage apartment rented by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a big first step for the district that already runs the Trauma Hawk air ambulance, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade and primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.

The opioid epidemic has been fueled by prescription pill abuse and the mixing of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl with heroin by traffickers and dealers to increase potency and profit.

The district this week applied for a $10 million state grant over five years from the Department of Children & Families that would allow it initially to provide services to addicts at their most vulnerable: right when they overdose and are taken to hospital emergency rooms.

The district will partner up with Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, as well as hospital emergency rooms.

The first stage of the plan is to get addicts in crisis who have been stabilized to an open bed at a local detox or drug recovery center.

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Darcy Davis, CEO of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, says it is time to tackle the heroin epidemic.

The Health Care District is also not just focusing on poor and homeless drug abusers, aiming to help any community drug users who needs to navigate the drug rehabilitation and insurance industries to get treatment, as well as providing those without means an avenue for recovery.

But the district’s CEO Darcy Davis says the second phase of the plan will establish a “centralized receiving facility” that would not only provide treatment for addicts but also mental health services.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is significant and we need to act as quickly as possible to respond,” she said. “And you have to start somewhere. It’s a huge problem. We feel like we need to get involved.”

Read more about the Health Care District’s plans to expand into addiction services this weekend in the Palm Beach Post.

And read our coverage of the heroin epidemic by clicking here.

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After a year, Health Care District finally names Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Ron Wierwora left the Health Care District of Palm Beach County after the Board in July 2015 surprisingly gave him a no-confidence vote after a series of bad audits and a failed attempted coup by the Sheriff’s Department to take over Trauma Hawk.

It should be noted, it took the district — which provides a health-care safety net on numerous fronts — more than year to officially fill Wiewora’s shoes as both CEO and Chief Medical Officer.

On Tuesday, Dr. Belma Andrić, was named to the chief medical officer position. She follows a decision by the Board to name Darcy Davis as CEO in March. Davis had served in various positions with the district before being tabbed to lead it.

March 25th, 2015 - West Palm Beach, Florida: Dr. Belma Andric, of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.
Dr. Belma Andric is the new Chief Medical Office for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.
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Darcy Davis was named the CEO of the Health Care District in March.
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Nick Romanello recently left the Health Care District after serving as general counsel.

In the meantime, the district lost Nicholas Romanello, its legal counsel. He resigned after being passed over for the CEO position in favor of Davis. The attorney is currently on the state Board of Medicine.

So Andrić joins a revamped leadership marshalling a district with a $200 million-plus budget and 1,200 employees. The district runs Trauma Hawk, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade, primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.

Dr. Andrić will be responsible for quality and patient safety across the Health Care District and will directly supervise Trauma Hawk and patient safety departments, among other duties.

She previously served as medical director of the District’s C. L. Brumback Primary Care Clinics, which provides care to over 30,000 adult and pediatric patients annually. She oversaw eight clinic locations

“She brings her love of data analytics and performance outcomes to this new role,” Davis said. “Dr. Andrić is a demonstrated networker who is able to reach beyond institutional walls to attract, recruit and inspire our clinical team.”

Florida Auditor General releases report on Health Care District

The state Auditor General released the much-anticipated report on the Health Care District of Palm Beach County — and despite resurrecting some ghosts of scandals past — this latest in a long line of audits found little new.

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New CEO of the Health Care District Darcy Davis says taxpayers should be thrilled with the recent report from the State Auditor General that resurrected some old scandals but found little new.

The audit recommended the district get reimbursed for using the air ambulance Trauma Hawk out of county and put in conflict of interest safeguards when purchasing land or giving money away to outreach organizations. It also recommended increased independence when it comes to its internal audits.

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Rep. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth – and county commission candidate – wanted Trauma Hawk placed under the power of the Sheriff’s Office.

The district has undergone a series of audits in about a year and this latest one was a political animal stemming from a takeover attempt last year by the Sheriff’s Office of Trauma Hawk. That coup failed, but one of its most ardent supporters, Lake Worth state Rep. Dave Kerner, called for an audit.

For Darcy Davis, the newly enthroned CEO of the district, the Auditor General’s report was a good start to her tenure. It is especially good news when compared to what has happen to the south with scandal-plagued Broward Health where the chair was removed by Gov. Rick Scott last month and then ordered reinstated by a judge on Monday.

“The taxpayers should be pleased that this is all the Auditor General would find,” she said. “Not to minimize their efforts, but seriously this gives me reassurance that the tax dollars are being used wisely.”

The report alludes to a scandal five years ago when the district spurned free county land to rebuild the Edward J. Healey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at its existing – but problematic – site. Instead, the district purchased land for $4 million in which the family of the real estate broker for the district had an interest.

On Trauma Hawk, the report did say that not all out-of-county services were trauma-related, and thus were not reimbursed. The county footed about $452,500 for counties that called in for help.

Davis said that the District will renew negotiations with other counties, but it is a tough task since withholding such services could cost lives.