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.”

Gov. Scott re-appoints two members of Health Care District Board

After a drama-filled year for the Health Care District, Chair Philip Ward and board member Nancy Banner weathered the storm to get new terms courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott announced the  re-appointments on Monday. Both were originally appointed by the governor in October 2011 and continued in their capacity on the board after their terms expired last year.

Ward is president and managing partner of Ward Damon, a multi-disciplined law firm which he co-founded in 1987. He succeeded Carol A. Roberts as board chair last year.

The governor’s office said Ward is appointed to a term ended in September 2018, while Banner’s new term ends in September 2019.

The Health Care District has 1,200 employees and runs Trauma Hawk, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade, primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.

Last year, the board refused to give then CEO Dr. Ron Wiewora a vote of confidence and he abruptly resigned. The district also weathered several audits – including one by the State Auditor General. It also found itself challenged by the sheriff’s office for control of Trauma Hawk.

It seemed to be courting further drama when it considered for the open CEO position at least two officials from scandal-ridden Broward Health – the public health system in that county – but ended up choosing in March internal candidate Darcy Davis.