Health News Florida

Since 2006, Health News Florida has provided in-depth journalism on health policy issues in our state.

Health News Florida is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at

Lakeland Regional Medical Center, which recently opened a new family health center, has won a $4 million grant  in a new state initiative to encourage more primary care for low-income Floridians.

LRMC is one of 28 winners in the state sharing $35 million in grants. In this region, five organizations were awarded a total of $13.4 million.

Aside from LRMC, the local winners are:

--Suncoast Community Health Centers, based in Riverview, $3.8 million.

--Tampa Family Health Centers, two grants, $2.5 million and $590,000.

--Tampa General Hospital, nearly $1.9 million.

--Pinellas County Health Department, $560,000.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Anyone can use an alias. But not everyone has the same tattoos. Consider the cold case in Southern California, where some savvy police work and an elaborate tattoo helped police capture and ultimately convict Anthony Garcia for a liquor store murder.

The Los Angeles Times described the tattoo that helped pin down the murderer:

A fractious contract dispute between UnitedHealthcare and Tampa Bay’s largest hospital network has heated up, leaving patients stuck in the middle.

BayCare Health System, which includes 11 major hospitals in the Pinellas-Pasco-Hillsborough region, has sent letters to patients informing them that United’s Medicare Advantage plans won’t be acceptable coverage there after Nov. 26, except for emergencies.

USF St. Petersburg News

The 20th Annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading is this Saturday, October 20th, at the USF St. Petersburg campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While well-known authors like Dennis Lehane (speaking at the University Student Center at 10 a.m.) and Michael Grunwald (University Student Center at 2:30 p.m.) will present their latest works, three local figures profiled on this week's University Beat on WUSF 89.7 will also be speaking.

A third Floridian has died from contaminated steroid injections, and the number of Florida sites that received products from the now-infamous New England Compounding Center has tripled to 260, the state Department of Health said today.

Fifty-one of the recipients of NECC's injectable drugs are in West-Central Florida, according to the list of sites posted on the DOH web site.

Contaminated steroid injections for back pain may not be the sole source of infection sent out from New England Compounding Center, health officials say.

While the Florida Department of Health says it has notified 99 percent of all the patients in Florida who received the back injections, they now are concerned about products produced by the NECC.

"The processes that led to the contamination of steroids may have led to the contamination of other NECC medications," Armstrong said.

"The FDA has urged all patients, who since May 21 2012, have received any NECC injectable medications that they be notified of the possibility of infection."

Bernadette DiPino was appointed today to serve as the next Chief of Police for the Sarasota Police Department.

The 48-year-old will replace Chief Mikel Hollaway, who retires December 1st. DiPino is currently chief of police in the tourist town of Ocean City, Maryland. The city has only 7,000 people, but summer crowds swell its population to become second only to Baltimore in the summertime.

Is there such thing as being too careful when it comes to buying health insurance? According to a recent study, seniors on average spend $368 more than they need to on their Medicare prescription drug plans.

According to the Health Affairs study, there are a few reasons for this.

1.) So many choices.

There are 1,736 prescription-drug plans available to Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare's Part D benefit. That's about 50 plans per region; Florida has 35.

The stars are out –  the Medicare stars.  It's the government's ranking of the quality of health plans.

The ratings are out today because it's the opening of Medicare shopping season.  From now through Dec. 7, beneficiaries get to choose among private drug and managed-care plans for 2013. The government pays the lion’s share of the cost.

The Department of Health announced that the cases of fungal meningitis in Florida have risen to nine. A 52- year old woman and a 79- year old woman are being treated after getting steroid shots in the back at the Marion County Pain Management Center.

Nationwide 170 cases have been reported. Health Department Officials say all cases are a result of contaminated steroids from the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.

There have been two deaths in Florida and 14 nationwide. An 83-year- old Marion County man died as a result of the contaminated back pain injection he received at the Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala. The first death was an unidentified 70-year-old man who had been treated at the Florida Pain Clinic in Ocala in July.

In 2024, the trust fund that pays for Medicare is expected to be depleted. What should be done about the future of Medicare?

That's the issue Tampa senior citizens got a chance to tackle at the AARP's "You've Earned a Say" initiative forum at the Poynter Institute.

The audience voted on five questions with a hand held clicker.

1.) Should the qualifying age for Medicare be raised from 65 to 67?

No: 56 percent. Yes: 35 percent. Neither: 10 percent.

Dr. Carol Roberts, a once-prominent advocate of alternative medicine, was reprimanded and fined $15,000 today by the Florida Board of Medicine at a meeting in Boca Raton. She had been charged with two counts of negligence in a 2009 outbreak of hepatitis C among her patients.

As many as 11 cases of the serious and incurable illness developed after a nurse at Roberts’ Tampa-area clinic reused syringes and medicine vials. The nurse, Brandy Medeiros, is now serving a five-year probation ordered by the Board of Nursing.

Roberts was charged in only two of the cases. The Department of Health said no other patients filed complaints.

Donald Mullins, a consumer member of the board, said he didn’t see it as fair to blame a doctor for what a nurse does. But all other board members disagreed.

Dr. Zach Zachariah said that as “captain of the ship,” Roberts had to take responsibility for what happened. Dr. Fred Bearison agreed: “The doctor does have responsibility to make sure policies and procedures are followed."

The Department of Health announced Thursday afternoon that an 83-year- old Marion County man died as a result of the contaminated back pain injection he received at the Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala.

His death marks the second in Florida and the 14th nationwide. The first death was an unidentified 70-year-old man who had been treated at the Florida Pain Clinic in Ocala in July.

“Across the country, we are seeing the number of cases increase, so it is not unexpected that Florida’s cases will rise,” said Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong.

Steve Newborn / WUSF

Sam Gibbons was re-elected to Congress 16 times, from the 1960s through 1997. Before that, he served in the Florida Legislature, and was instrumental in getting the University of South Florida established. Former USF president Betty Castor says one reason for his longevity is Gibbons remembered that all politics is local.

After suffering from cardiomyopathy for more than three decades, 70- year old David Skand of Tampa found himself in a tough position--his heart had given out.

"My back was pretty much up against the wall," he said.

Skand's doctors at USF Health told him there might be a better option than surgery.

They recommended he join a clinical trial testing Neucardin, a genetically-engineered drug designed to treat chronic heart failure like his.

USF Health is one of 10 sites in the country for this study. Skand signed up.

"I really thought this would be a good opportunity to try something--and see if it would work out," said Skand,  a veterinarian who tests racehorses for drugs.

Doctors told Skand he could continue to take his normal heart medication while participating in the trial.

Florida has registered its first fatality from the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated back-pain injections, the Department of Health announced Tuesday night. DOH also raised the case count in the state to six, all in Marion County.

The death actually occurred in July, DOH said, before the discovery that certain lots of steroids from New England Compounding Center were contaminated.

YouTube screen shot

A South Florida man died Friday after winning a cockroach-eating contest at a Deerfield Beach reptile store, the Miami Herald reports.

Edward Archbold, 32, of West Palm Beach, ate more than 20 roaches and worms in four minutes to earn the grand prize: a pet python. 

All four Floridians who have so far contracted a rare fungal meningitis at the center of a national outbreak had been given injections at the Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala, the Florida Department of Health said Monday.

Five other clinics in the state have also given doses of the drugs to patients, but no cases linked to them have been reported yet, DOH press officer Ashley Carr said Monday.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new update Monday afternoon saying as many as 13,000 people in the country may have been exposed to the contaminated steroids, Reuters reported.

So far eight clinics in Florida have been found to have received contaminated drugs that cause a rare fungal meningitis, the state Department of Health announced Friday afternoon.

The clinics and surgery centers include three in Ocala, two in Pensacola, and one each in Palm Beach, Orlando, and Miami.

Medicare open enrollment season is around the corner, and lots of bargain plans are available to beneficiaries who shop around. But will they?

Two-thirds of drug-plan enrollees say they won't bother, according to a survey released Wednesday by Medicare Today, a consortium of consumer and professional health groups. They see no reason to -- 90 percent report that they're satisfied with their plan.

But even if they're not satisfied, seniors often don't tackle the job of comparison-shopping. Experts call this "the lock-in effect," and it can keep beneficiaries from taking the pills they've been prescribed.