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The top leaders of Broward Health have been indicted on charges of violating Florida’s open-meetings law, throwing the public hospital system into the worst turmoil of its years of crises and investigations.
Summonses were issued Tuesday.
A grand jury indictment names Broward Health board chairman Rocky Rodriguez, interim CEO Beverly Capasso, General Counsel Lynn Barrett, board member Christopher Ure and former board member Linda Robison. The charges are second-degree misdemeanors, carrying maximum penalties of a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed all of the board members, typically suspends public officials who face criminal charges. The governor made no announcement as of Tuesday afternoon. If he suspends the two current board members, it would leave Broward Health with just three of its seven seats filled.
The two current and former board members were charged with two counts of violating the state’s public-meetings law. Barrett was charged with solicitation to violate the public-meetings law. All five were charged with conspiracy to violate the public-meetings law.
Lawyers for Broward Health, Barrett, Capasso and Rodriguez issued a statement calling the charges “the most misguided prosecution we have ever seen.”
They accused prosecutors of protecting the corrupt elements of Broward Health that the current leaders were trying to root out.
“Instead of protecting the new management and commissioners at the North Broward Health District, who have been intimidated and harassed while cooperating with federal and state law enforcement officers to root out corruption and violations of the federal health care laws, the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) allowed itself to be manipulated by the very same people who were replaced because of their mismanagement and corruption,” the statement said.
They said prosecutors refused to subpoena witnesses who could have provided evidence clearing their clients.
“This deeply flawed investigation was predetermined, biased, and manipulated from the start,” they said.
The charges, which came after a Broward grand jury heard testimony, involved the board’s vote on Dec. 1, 2016, to fire Broward Health’s interim CEO Pauline Grant.
That meeting followed an investigation engineered by Barrett, who hired two outside law firms to look into kickback accusations against Grant. She was accused of placing orthopedic surgeons on a call list in a manner that could provide improper financial benefits to North Broward Health, the hospital where she had served as CEO before becoming interim CEO of the entire system.
Prior to the Dec. 1, 2016, board meeting, Barrett arranged for board members to meet individually with the outside lawyers who looked into the accusations against Grant. Then the board met and voted to fire Grant, at a meeting for which the agenda provided no indication that her dismissal was being considered. At that time, Capasso was serving on the board.
The state open-meetings law requires that public boards conduct business in public, with a few narrow exceptions, and requires proper notice for public meetings, stating the items to be acted upon.
Grant, who denied any wrongdoing, filed suit against the board and Barrett.
Broward Health, legally known as the North Broward Hospital District, runs five hospitals and various outpatient centers that serve the northern two-thirds of the county. It is partially supported by property taxes.
The board planned to conduct interviews next month with six finalists for the job of CEO, a post that has been filled by a series of interim leaders since the suicide nearly two years ago of the last CEO, Dr. Nabil El Sanadi. It’s unclear how the criminal charges will affect those interviews.
Three current Broward Health board members, who were not on the board at the time of Grant’s firing, were not charged.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.
Idaho’s latest plan to address the state’s health coverage gap will be addressed in two public sessions in Coeur d’Alene. An informational session on Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at which people can hear presentations about the plan and get questions answered, and a formal public comment hearing on Tuesday morning.
The proposal, dubbed the Idaho Health Care Plan, calls for the state to seek waivers from the federal government to allow a portion of those who now fall into the state’s health coverage gap – because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the state insurance exchange – to either get subsidies, or, for those who are the sickest due to certain specific conditions, such as stage 4 cancer or cystic fibrosis, Medicaid coverage.
Previous public sessions in Boise and Pocatello have drawn overflow crowds and strong support for the waiver plan. But many who’ve spoken also have called for expanding the waiver proposals to include serious mental illnesses along with other specified conditions. Though some earlier drafts of the proposal did include those, the current draft does not.
“This is the first time the public has had a chance to give us feedback about this,” said Health and Welfare spokesman Chris Smith. “This is us listening to the people of Idaho: What do they want? And then trying to take that and say, OK, what’s possible for us to do within the bounds that we have?”
“We’ve been really impressed with the turnout that we’ve had,” Smith said.
For the Idaho Health Care Plan to move forward, federal authorities would have to grant two waivers, one to the Department of Health and Welfare and one to the state Department of Insurance; and then the governor and Legislature would have to sign off on the program, including state law changes to authorize it.
Idaho lawmakers have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving an estimated 78,000 people in the coverage gap. Under the Idaho Health Care Plan, about 38,000 low-income, working Idahoans who now fall into the gap could receive federal tax credits to help them afford private insurance. The plan envisions that moving the sickest Idahoans off the exchange to Medicaid would also lower costs for all those purchasing plans through the exchange.
Among those who have offered public comments thus far are Jim Baugh, executive director of Disability Rights Idaho, who called during the Boise hearing for expanding the serious-illness waiver to include serious mental illness. He also called the proposal “a positive step.”
Jim Giuffre, former president and CEO of Healthwise and a former district health director for the state, said the plan would benefit patients, businesses, the state budget, and counties, which, he said, are “spending a disproportionate amount of their money on what is called the indigent fund, and it’s a ridiculous way to fund health care in the state of Idaho and it doesn’t do a very good job of it.”
The indigent fund pays the catastrophic medical bills of those who can’t afford to pay, drawing on local property taxes. But it doesn’t provide any coverage pre-catastrophe. Moving to something like the Idaho Health Care plan instead, Guiffre said, is “the right thing to do.”
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Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger
During Mississippi’s mental health task force’s third meeting since Attorney General Jim Hood created it last summer, a security guard stood by the elevators at the Walter Sillers State Office Building in downtown Jackson, asking folks attempting to enter if they were “on the task force.”
That’s because members of the public and press have been barred from attending the gatherings, which take place on the 13th floor — in the press room. The meetings, in which attendees are split into several subcommittees, are designed to address issues within the state’s multi-pronged mental health system.
They met Wednesday for nearly four hours.
MS Pulse: Mississippi has a transparency problem and it could be hurting health
Hood’s office is defending the state in a lawsuit U.S. Department of Justice filed against Mississippi in 2016 for its delivery of mental health services. The state is accused of having too great a reliance on institutional versus community-based care.
Building officials said the public cannot visit the public, taxpayer-funded offices in the Sillers building — including the governor’s office and Medicaid — unless they have an appointment.
The task force is made up of representatives from more than 30 agencies, many that already serve folks with mental illnesses. The group includes health care professionals, judges, law enforcement officers, academics and advocates, as well as lawmakers Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, Sen. Hob Bryan, R-Amory, and Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens.
The attorney general’s office claims the group is not subject to the Open Meetings Act because it is not drafting legislation or policy, only recommendations.
A press release on the task force says it “will also review current legislation as well as needs for additional legislation.”
A similar task force created by Gov. Phil Bryant to study the state’s opioid crisis, an issue that overlaps greatly with mental health, also wrote recommendations. It held meetings open to the public.
The membership of the mental health task force, the only folks authorized to attend meetings, is in flux, said Hood’s spokesperson Margaret Morgan. Morgan said Hood extended an invitation to participate to many groups, which either accepted, declined, or even invited others in the field to join.
Hood, a likely candidate for governor in 2019, asked task force members to decide whether other members of the public or press should be allowed to attend. A majority of respondents said they preferred the meetings be closed, making it impossible for outside review to determine the group’s productivity.
Morgan has provided the Clarion Ledger the contact information for at least three members of the task force who said they’d be willing to talk to reporters.
One of those members, Biloxi Police Chief Chris De Back, said his involvement on the task force focuses mainly with coordinating efforts between mental health professionals and law enforcement to identify folks in crisis and provide “the necessary services they need before it ends up in a law enforcement capacity.”
In general, De Back said the task force is good for bringing folks of all disciplines together from across the state to learn how each person plays a role — something advocates have pleaded for over the years.
“There are all kinds of services out there. The problem is the services aren’t working together or they don’t know about each other,” De Back said. “By becoming a team, bringing everything together, we can be more efficient and, in the long run, more effective.”
Sen. Bryan said Wednesday he doesn’t understand why the meetings are closed and was willing to discuss what his subcommittee addressed: improvements to the state’s commitment process.
Bryan said the state has made progress with commitments, a process “based on a law that existed a hundred years ago, passed when there wasn’t the knowledge there is now.” His subcommittee is discussing ways to continue moving away from commitments being the default way to get services for someone with a mental illness.