Senior writer and co-founder of C-HIT, Lisa Chedekel is an award-winning investigative reporter who wrote for the Hartford Courant for 15 years, covering a wide range of beats, from politics to healthcare. In 1999, she was among a team of reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting. In 2002, she was among a handful of U.S. journalists who visited Saudi Arabia in the year after 9/11 to report on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. More recently, she co-authored a series on mental health in the military that won a George Polk Award, the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer in Investigative Reporting. Before writing for The Courant, she was a staff writer and columnist for the New Haven Register. You can contact Lisa at chedekel at c-hit.org
The state’s efforts to direct children in mental health crisis away from emergency rooms, to other services, have fallen short, with major hospitals reporting staggering increases in patient visits since 2013: Up 32 percent at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and 81 percent at Yale New Haven Hospital. The children’s hospital (CCMC) reported nearly 3,300 visits last year – 275 a month, on average — with the average length of stay increasing to 15 hours from less than 12 in 2013. “I wish I could say we had made a lot of progress, but we haven’t,” said Dr. Steve Rogers, medical director of the emergency department’s (ED’s) behavioral health unit. “Unfortunately, I think it’s only going to keep trending this way.”
Similarly, Yale saw ED visits by children ages 15 and younger rise from fewer than 750 in 2013 to more than 1,350 in 2016 — and the numbers are running even higher this year, said Dr. Claudia Moreno, medical director for psychiatric emergencies in Yale’s children’s emergency department. At times, she said, all ED beds are full, and children wait on hallway gurneys.
The state’s top insurers were more likely to approve claims for mental health services in 2015 than the year before, but rates of rejection for residential care remained high, a new state report shows. About 6.4 percent of claims for mental health services were rejected by eight top managed care insurers – down from about 8 percent in 2014 – according to an analysis of the 2016 Consumer Report Card on Health Insurance Carriers in Connecticut. At the same time, insurers continued to deny more than one in six requests for residential behavioral health care. And the percentage of managed care plan enrollees who received any inpatient services for mental health was low, with most companies providing such services for fewer than 0.3 percent of all enrollees. The analysis is based on eight companies that reported the same categories of data in 2015 and 2016 to the state Insurance Department, which changed the reporting format across the two years.
State officials and parent advocates gave different versions Tuesday of how often, and why, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) takes custody of children with severe behavioral health problems – and whether the practice should continue. Advocates, including a group of adoptive parents, told the legislature’s Committee on Children that a proposed bill that would prohibit DCF from “requesting, recommending or requiring” that parents relinquish their custodial rights when seeking mental health treatment for their children is needed to stop a practice known as ‘trading custody for care.’ The bill, drafted by state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, was prompted by an October C-HIT story that described DCF’s use of “uncared for” custody petitions against parents who could not manage their children at home and insisted on specialized residential care. In testimony Tuesday, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the agency resorts to taking over custody only in rare cases in which parents refuse to take their children home from inpatient settings or “will not cooperate” with clinician-recommended in-home or community-based treatment services. “We disagree with the notion that DCF requires parents to completely relinquish custody of their children” to receive suitable behavioral health care, Katz said. She acknowledged that the agency has sharply reduced the number of children it places in residential treatment.
A federal judge has agreed to a six-month delay in sentencing a Derby nurse who pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks in exchange for prescribing a powerful opioid painkiller because she is cooperating in “numerous ongoing criminal investigations,” according to court records. U.S. District Judge Michael Shea approved a Jan. 17 agreement between federal prosecutors and attorneys for Heather Alfonso that delays her sentencing another six months, until July 2017. Alfonso was charged in June 2015 with accepting $83,000 in kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics in exchange for her high prescribing of the drug Subsys. In arguing for the new sentencing delay, the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut said Alfonso “continues to cooperate in (investigations in) several federal and state jurisdictions, including the District of Connecticut.” A previous story by C-HIT reported on prior sentencing delays because she was cooperating in an ongoing federal probe.
At the Fresh River Healthcare nursing home in East Windsor, the chance that a short-stay patient will end up back in the hospital within 30 days of arriving at the facility is less than eight percent. Meanwhile, 12 miles away at the Greensprings Healthcare and Rehabilitation nursing home in East Hartford, more than a third of patients who came from hospitals will be readmitted in 30 days. The wide swing in nursing home patients’ re-hospitalization rates has a lot to do with the condition patients are in when they are discharged from inpatient stays, as well as the planning that goes into the transition to other care. The federal government has been penalizing hospitals since 2012 for high rates of patients returning within 30 days of discharge. But now, nursing homes (or skilled nursing facilities) also are being held accountable for hospital readmissions.
In an unusual move, the FBI is reaching out publicly to patients who were prescribed the powerful narcotic medication Subsys, which federal agents allege was improperly dispensed by practitioners across the country, including a nurse in Derby. In a posting on its Victim Assistance Program website, the FBI asks people who were prescribed Subsys between March 2012 and December 2016 to complete a brief questionnaire that will assist in a federal probe of Insys Therapeutics, the company that makes Subsys. The appeal follows the indictments in December of six top executives and managers of Insys on charges they led a nationwide conspiracy to bribe doctors and nurses to prescribe Subsys, which is approved for treating cancer patients suffering episodes of breakthrough pain. In exchange for bribes and kickbacks, the practitioners wrote large numbers of prescriptions for patients, most of whom were not diagnosed with cancer, the indictments allege. One of the practitioners named in the indictments is Heather Alfonso, formerly an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center in Derby. She has pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks from Insys through a sham “speakers’ program,” in exchange for prescribing Subsys.
Six top pharmaceutical executives and managers, formerly employed by Insys Therapeutics, Inc., were arrested Thursday on charges that they led a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners, including a nurse at a pain clinic in Derby. In a sweeping indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, federal prosecutors charged the former CEO and president of the Arizona-based company, Michael Babich, two former vice presidents, and three other managers with paying kickbacks to practitioners in several states, many of whom operated pain clinics, in order to get them to prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication. The medication, Subsys, is a powerful narcotic intended to treat cancer patients suffering intense episodes of breakthrough pain. In exchange for kickbacks, the practitioners wrote large numbers of prescriptions for the patients, most of whom were not diagnosed with cancer, the indictment says. Prosecutors also allege that the former executives conspired to mislead and defraud health insurance providers, who were reluctant to approve payment for the drug when it was prescribed for non-cancer patients. One of the 10 practitioners referenced in the indictment is Heather Alfonso, formerly an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center in Derby, who has pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks from Insys, through a sham “speakers’ program,” in exchange for prescribing Subsys.
Connecticut saw one of the highest increases in the nation in preventable deaths from unintentional injuries from 2010 to 2014, mainly because of a spike in opioid overdoses, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An analysis of the report shows that the state’s rate of potentially preventable deaths from accidental injuries jumped 97 percent – the sixth- highest increase nationally, after Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. Nationally, preventable deaths from accidents – namely, overdoses from prescription and illicit drugs, as well as falls – rose 23 percent. Connecticut had 1,142 unintentional injury deaths in 2014— the second highest in New England, after Massachusetts. About half (568) were accidental drug intoxication deaths, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Ten Connecticut prescribers, including a Derby nurse who is at the center of a federal kickback probe, were responsible for more than 23 percent of the state’s Medicare spending on opioids in 2014, suggesting that the largest share of those prescriptions is concentrated among a small number of clinicians. Recently released federal Medicare data show that Heather Alfonso, formerly a nurse with the Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, in Derby, and four other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) at the clinic in 2014 dispensed more than $8.4 million in opioids in the Medicare program – accounting for a full 15 percent of all such prescriptions in the state. They were among the top 10 opioid prescribers in 2014, who accounted for $13 million of the $56 million spent on the drugs, the data show. More than 4,800 Connecticut clinicians, mostly physicians, wrote Medicare prescriptions for oxycodone, fentanyl and other opioids. But the prescribing was not evenly spread out – only two-dozen prescribers wrote out more than $250,000 worth of prescriptions.
The state has taken custody of more than 860 children since 2011 because their families could not access or provide “specialized care” for their mental health or physical conditions, according to judicial department data.