Tameeka Coleman and six of her children lived on the streets before moving into a shelter in Fairfield. “We were together, so it was bearable,” said Coleman, 38. The hardest part was when her children cried for their home. “They wanted to know how we had lost our apartment,” said Coleman, who was evicted after she couldn’t pay the rent. Living conditions play a key role in children’s well-being.
Soon after Minerva Cuapio, a 48-year-old Mexican immigrant who lives in New Haven, was laid off from her job at a dry cleaner in March, she developed a headache, an itchy throat and a dry cough. Then came the shortness of breath that really worried her daughter, Izarelli Mendieta, 29, of New Haven. While trying to get her mother care, she said, they were bounced from a doctor to the state’s COVID-19 hotline to a telemedicine visit back to the hotline and then to a drive-through testing center and an emergency room visit. The family waited nine days for Cuapio’s positive test results. Izarelli’s father, Pedro Mendieta, 55, who lost a foot to diabetes, tested positive, too, but had mild symptoms.
Minerva Cuapio and Pedro Mendieta have recovered, but their daughter, who translates for her parents because they only speak Spanish, said if she could meet Gov. Ned Lamont, she would ask him to make the process easier for families like hers.
At 6:25 a.m. on the cloudy, humid first day of summer, two teenage aquaculture students huddle at the back of their school boat as it backs away from a dock in Black Rock Harbor in western Bridgeport. Charlotte Hickey grips a heavy cylindrical metal probe that is about a foot and a half long. The students call this “the beast.” It contains electronics that precisely measure water conditions. Sienna Matregrano holds a clipboard and pen, ready to record depth, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence and turbidity. Both girls are seniors at Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School.
With physicians’ compensation from pharmaceutical and medical device companies under increasing scrutiny, payments to doctors in Connecticut for consultant work rose to $8.5 million in 2017, up from $8 million in 2016. Payments for meals, travel and gifts also increased from $3.2 million in 2016 to $3.5 million in 2017, data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show. Of the total $27.2 million in payments, $4.37 million – or 16 percent – went to 10 doctors holding licenses in Connecticut. The highest paid doctor was Dr. Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon in Greenwich, who accepted slightly more than $1 million in 2017 in royalty fees, consulting work, and other services from several companies, including Arthrex Inc., and Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of Exparel. The drug, Exparel, is marketed as an alternative to opioid painkillers post-surgery.
Connecticut consumers were billed for more than $1 billion in facility fees for outpatient services in 2015 and 2016, documents filed with the state Office of Health Care Access (OHCA) show. Twenty-two of Connecticut’s 30 hospitals charged these fees, bringing in $600.7 million in 2015 and another $488.8 million in 2016, according to an analysis by Conn. Health I-Team. The state’s two largest hospital systems, Yale New Haven Health and Hartford HealthCare, accounted for almost half of the total facility fee revenue in 2016. Yale and its four hospitals billed $144.3 million; Hartford and its five hospitals, $80.9 million.
Out of work and addicted to the anti-anxiety medication Klonopin, Heather Delaney, a licensed practical nurse from Stratford, checked herself into Bridgeport Hospital in 2011 when she could no longer handle withdrawal without medical help. After a brief hospitalization following a suicide attempt the previous fall, Delaney spent two horrific months on her own in the throes of withdrawal. The corners of her eyes felt “chapped,” and “it felt like somebody had wrapped me up in a scratchy blanket of needles,” said Delaney, who had given up her nursing license after being caught altering her Klonopin prescription. Sara Kaiser, an LPN living in Manchester, stole morphine from the nursing homes where she worked and was addicted to heroin from age 18 to 24. She spent time homeless and in prison, ultimately going through 14 rehab programs before getting sober in 2010.
Ten years have gone by, but Lisa Vincent and her son, Jose, flash back to their goodbye with fresh anguish and faltering voices. He is 21 now, but the 11-year-old boy he was back then easily re-surfaces, all anger and confusion. “I didn’t understand. I was under the assumption I was going back to her,” Jose says. “For a long time, I felt that whole ‘she gave up on me like everyone else did.’ Now, I realize it wasn’t her.
Four nurses, all of them affiliated with a Derby pain clinic, were responsible for nearly all of the state’s 2014 Medicare spending on the powerful opioid painkiller Subsys, which is at the center of a kickback probe. New Medicare data for 2014 show the four nurses, all who worked at the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center of Derby, were responsible for 279 claims for Subsys, at a cost of $2.3 million. The highest prescriber was Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) formerly employed by the clinic who is awaiting sentencing on charges she took kickbacks from Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics for dispensing Subsys to patients. The new data is the first indication that the propensity to prescribe Subsys extended beyond Alfonso, to other clinic staff. None of the other three nurses has been implicated in an ongoing federal probe of Insys’ marketing of Subsys that resulted in the criminal charges against Alfonso.
Eight of the top 10 prescribers of a potent narcotic used for cancer pain were paid more than $870,000 in speaking fees by the drug maker in 2013 and 2014 — indicating that Derby nurse Heather Alfonso was not the only high prescriber compensated by the company. Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who worked at the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center in Derby, pleaded guilty last month to accepting $83,000 in kickbacks from 2013 to March 2015 from the drug company Insys Therapeutics, which has heavily marketed a painkiller called Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray approved only for cancer patients. Alfonso was paid to speak about Subsys at more than 70 “dinner programs,” but most of those programs were attended only by her and a sales representative for Insys, or by Alfonso’s colleagues and friends who had no authority to prescribe the drug, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut. Alfonso faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000 on the charge of receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal healthcare program. In pleading guilty, she admitted that the money she was paid influenced her prescribing of Subsys, often to non-cancer patients, federal investigators said.
Ten Connecticut prescribers, including a Derby nurse practitioner who is under investigation by the state, were responsible for more than 22 percent of the state’s Medicare spending on potent narcotics in 2013, new federal data show. More than 4,300 Connecticut clinicians, mostly physicians, wrote Medicare prescriptions for oxycodone, morphine and other Schedule II drugs, which have a high potential for abuse and addiction, at a total cost of $40 million. But a handful of those providers accounted for the largest share of those prescriptions, an analysis of the data show. Topping the list, in both the number of prescriptions and cost, was Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, in Derby, who wrote out 8,523 prescriptions, at a cost of $2.7 million. Statewide, the average number of prescriptions per clinician was 104, and no other prescriber had more than 5,000 Schedule II claims. The average cost per prescriber was $9,138; the next closest individual cost was $1.8 million.