A lawmaker who chairs a state Senate committee on children has asked the state to investigate the doctor who treated a foster child who killed himself in Margate.
By CAROL MARBIN MILLER
A powerful Florida lawmaker has asked two state agencies to investigate a Broward County psychiatrist who had been treating Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old who hanged himself last month in the bathroom of his Margate foster home.
In separate letters to the Florida Board of Medicine and the Agency for Health Care Administration, state Sen. Ronda R. Storms, a Brandon Republican who chairs the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, requested investigations leading to a “full report.”
Gabriel died April 16 after locking himself in a bathroom and hanging himself with a retractable shower cord. His death spurred DCF Secretary George Sheldon to appoint a work group to study the agency’s use of psychiatric drugs, and its compliance with a 2005 reform law on the use of such medications on children in state care.
The work group will meet for the first time Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.
”In my view, this case raised serious concerns which demand attention and answers,” Storms wrote in a May 1 letter to AHCA Secretary Holly Benson. Under the 2005 law, AHCA oversees a state program that monitors the prescribing of mental-health drugs to children under Medicaid, the state insurance program for the needy.
The program, called the Medicaid Drug Therapy Management Program, tracks the prescribing of mental-health drugs to children, and flags psychiatrists whose practices veer outside generally accepted protocols.
Among the practices that might draw attention: doctors with a high volume of prescriptions of mental-health drugs or potentially dangerous combinations of the medications. The program looks at the practices of about 17,000 doctors who prescribe medications to children on Medicaid, and about 300 to 450 end up red-flagged.
Dr. Sohail Punjwani, who was treating Gabriel, had been red-flagged by the medication program every quarter that the list was kept, one of the administrators told The Miami Herald.
Punjwani did not return calls from The Miami Herald for a comment.
In her letter to Benson, Storms asked what AHCA was doing to monitor the activities of doctors whose prescribing practices were identified as “problematic.”
”What guidelines or repercussions for red-flagged physicians are in place to prevent practices that result in a loss of life?” Storms wrote. “What actions, legislative remedies or otherwise, should be taken which would provide the citizens of our state a greater level of protection?”
Spokespersons for both state agencies declined to discuss the requests by Storms.
Eulinda Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, which oversees the Board of Medicine, said the agency does not comment on investigations of doctors unless or until a finding of probable cause has been made. ”If someone files a complaint,” she said, “that’s how we begin our disciplinary process.”
”It’s very serious when we get a head’s-up from a legislator,” Smith added. “That would prompt us to begin the disciplinary process.”
Punjwani has not been disciplined before by the Board of Medicine, Smith said.
Shelisha Durden, a spokeswoman for AHCA, would only confirm that her agency received Storms’ letter and that the agency is reviewing it.