It’s time for this week’s edition of Investigative Roundup, gathering some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare from around the country.
Doctor’s Fertility Fraud
At-home DNA testing led some 50 people to a stunning discovery: they were all biological half-siblings, and their father was an Indiana fertility doctor, as The Atlantic detailed.
Retired fertility specialist Donald Cline, MD, admitted that he used his own sperm to inseminate patients in the 1970s and 1980s without telling patients he was doing so.
At the time, therapies for fertility were relatively new, and Cline told those seeking treatment he would use a young medical resident as the sperm donor and then only for three successful pregnancies, when in fact he was the one donating the sperm. Cline cautioned parents not to tell anyone, including the future child, about the sperm donation, presumably thinking the secret would never get out.
But thanks to DNA tests now readily available from firms such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com, Cline’s biological children pieced together the facts.
According to The Atlantic, some of these individuals and their parents are appalled — one mother said, “I feel like I was raped 15 times” — though others appeared not to mind very much.
After complaints filed by half-siblings and inquiries by a local news reporter, Cline was charged with obstruction of justice — not rape or criminal misconduct — due to letters he sent to the attorney’s general office claiming he never used his own sperm. He was fined $500 and given probation for a year. He also lost his medical license, a symbolic gesture since he stopped practicing in 2009.
Investigation and Resignation at CO Mental Health Hospital
Months after Denver7 began a series of investigative reports on Clear View Behavioral Health hospital in Johnstown, Colorado, leading to state and federal investigations, the TV station reports that CEO Rick Harding has now resigned.
Denver7 began reporting on Clear View in January after receiving complaints from patients and their families accusing the facility of poor care and possible insurance fraud by holding patients for longer than medically necessary. An email from Harding obtained by the news organization appears to show him pressing management to extend patient stays and decrease discharges. “We have to stop having 2 heavy discharge days in a row,” a memo from Harding allegedly states.
Harding is the sixth person to leave Clear View since Denver7 began its reporting.
As pressure builds on the pharmaceutical industry to rein in soaring drug prices, it appears drugmakers are using underhanded tactics to sway public opinion in their favor, according to the Associated Press.
The AP investigation focuses on the nonprofit Alliance for Patient Access, which looks and sounds like a grassroots group dedicated to consumers’ well-being. It’s running ads that warn of the ill effects patients might face if the Trump administration and Congress succeed in bringing down prices — socialized European-style medicine!
But a look at who’s behind the Alliance suggests the pro-consumer face is really a mask. Pharmaceutical giants including AbbVie, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca, as well as the trade organization PhRMA, fund the group. It shares a Washington office with lobbying and PR firm Woodberry Associates, whose politically-connected founder and president serves as the Alliance’s executive director. The Alliance also paid Woodberry’s consultants more than $1 million from 2015 to 2017, according to the AP. And several of the physicians listed as Alliance directors have had lucrative consulting arrangements with pharma companies.
As a nonprofit, the Alliance doesn’t need to disclose a lot about benefactors and can engage in limited political activity — it’s done so, at least in part, by giving awards and publicity to friendly members of Congress.
Massachusetts Nursing Homes Pay Fines
After an investigation by state authorities, the Massachusetts state attorney general Maura Healey announced that several nursing homes will together pay around $500,000 in penalties to settle allegations of substandard care, according to MassLive.
“Our investigation revealed these facilities had systemic failures that led to serious harm and in some cases death of residents,” Healey said.
The penalties cover infractions such as letting “secure” patients leave through unlocked doors, improperly maintaining health records, and inadequately training staff. In one case, a woman fell at least 20 times while in a nursing home’s care; the last time she fell, her chair alarm wasn’t turned on and she wasn’t taken to a hospital for two days, where she died. (The nursing home also agreed to pay $1 million to settle a wrongful death suit filed by the woman’s daughter, the Worcester Telegram reported.)
In addition to the monetary penalties, the facilities will undergo strict compliance programs and take measures to increase the quality and safety of care, such as more staff, audits, and training.
The $500,000 from the penalties will be divided between the state’s general fund and a DPH fund that pays for enhancements to safety and quality of care at long-term care facilities.