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State Rep. Ed Henry, indicted on federal fraud charges, says he is innocent

Brandon Moseley

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On Thursday, state Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who was a business partner with a doctor who admits his involved in a pill mill, was arrested on charges of defrauding Medicare, conspiracy, and money laundering.

Henry, following his arrest, went to Facebook to announce that he is not guilty.

“I’ve always been as open and transparent as possible,” Henry said. “For the last 8 years I have fought the government from further encroachment on our Freedoms. Today began my fight with the Federal Government for my freedom. So while I would like to lay everything on the table for all to see, that would not be wise while fighting an opponent that has endless resources like our Government. My goal was to help patients, and I did. Using a program established and promoted by Medicare, I helped chronically ill patients and saved the taxpayers’ money. For that, I have been charged with multiple Felonies. I am not guilty of any crimes.”

United States Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr. said that Henry, from 2015 through 2017, was an owner of a health care company, MyPractice24, Inc. (MyPractice24).

During some of that time, Henry also served as the company’s CEO.

“MyPractice24 provided non-face-to-face chronic care management services to Medicare beneficiaries who had two or more chronic conditions,” the Office said. “The company did so pursuant to contracts into which it entered with primary care physicians. Under those contracts, the doctors would pay Henry’s company to provide these chronic care management services to the doctors’ patients, the company would provide the services, the doctors would bill Medicare for the services, and then the doctors would pay Henry’s company a share of the reimbursements received from Medicare.

“The indictment alleges that in 2016, Henry entered into an agreement with Dr. Gilberto Sanchez, a Montgomery physician who has subsequently pleaded guilty to drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering charges.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that under that agreement, “MyPractice24 would provide various kickbacks to Dr. Sanchez and his staff in return for the providers at Dr. Sanchez’s practice referring Medicare beneficiaries to MyPractice24 for chronic care management services.”

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“Among the kickbacks provided were direct payments to a member of the staff, free chronic care management services, free medical billing services, and free clinical services unrelated to the provision of chronic care management services,” the office said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Henry also “assisted Dr. Sanchez in paying kickbacks to patients who enrolled in the chronic care management program.”

“Dr. Sanchez paid these kickbacks by systematically waiving copays—copays which Medicare required Dr. Sanchez to collect,” The Office said.

“The indictment charges Henry with one count of conspiring to pay kickbacks and to defraud the United States,” The U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “It then alleges six counts of paying unlawful kickbacks—each count is based on a different type of kickback Henry paid to Dr. Sanchez and those who worked at Dr. Sanchez’s practice.”

“Next, the indictment charges Henry with one count of conspiring to commit health care fraud and five counts of health care fraud,” The U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “Those counts are based on Henry’s assisting Dr. Sanchez in unlawfully waiving copay obligations and then failing to report the copay waivers to Medicare.”

“Last, the indictment alleges that Henry conspired to commit money laundering,” The U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “The money laundering charge results from Henry’s using the proceeds of health care fraud to make payments to Dr. Sanchez’s staff members.”

“This case was investigated by the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, the Montgomery Police Department, and the Opelika Police Department assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan S. Ross is prosecuting the case,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Dr. Sanchez pleaded guilty to drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering charges in 2017.

Medicare has strict rules that prevent healthcare providers and insurers from offering incentives to enter into Medicare managed care plans. These include not allowing an insurer, insurance agent, or healthcare provider from offering incentives including waiver of premiums without authorization from Medicare.

Henry was elected in the Republican wave election of 2010. Several members of that 2010 class have been subsequently indicted or entered plea deals for various offenses.

State Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges with the state AG’s Special Prosecutions Division that he used his office for personal gain.

State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, was indicted and prosecuted by state prosecutors for perjury. He was found not guilty in a jury trial.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was convicted on 12 state charges of felony ethics violations.

State Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, pleaded guilty to federal corruption and bribery charges in an alleged conspiracy to prevent a Super Fund site in North Birmingham from being prioritized and expanded.

House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

State Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia, has been indicted on federal conspiracy charges alleging that he knew that Hammon had been corrupted by a California businessman and moved legislation through committee that Hammon wanted anyway.

Henry is the seventh member of the House to be indicted or to have taken a plea deal in the last five years.

Henry has been a vocal critic of Deputy Alabama Attorney General Matt Hart and the Special Prosecutions Division. Many legislators have been critical of the state’s ethic law and have urged that it be rewritten to give them more personal freedom to do money making deals on the side.

A joint House and Senate committee has been appointed to work on reforming, some say weakening, the ethics law after the election.

Henry is not running again for another term.

An indictment is not proof of guilt. Henry will have an opportunity to present a defense if the case moves forward.

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Black people over-represented among COVID-19 patients, deaths, UAB doctor says

Eddie Burkhalter

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Contrary to rumors, black people aren’t immune to the COVID-19 virus, and in some places in the U.S., black people are not only getting the deadly virus in larger numbers but are more likely to die from it, said a physician at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Dean of UAB School of Medicine, was speaking during a Facebook live video on Saturday, the first in what’s to be a series of discussions with faith leaders and physicians on the COVID-19 crisis, organized by UAB and the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.

Vickers said in Milwaukee and Michigan, two places that, unlike most others in the U.S. currently, are keeping track of the racial makeup of COVID-19 patients, black people are overrepresented among the virus’s patients.

“In Milwaukee, which is 26 percent African American, 50 percent of the COVID-19 cases happen to be African American,” Vickers said.

What’s even more troubling, Vickers said, is that even though whites and other races make up 50 percent of Milwaukee’s  COVID-19 cases, black people make up 80 percent of the city’s deaths from the virus.

“You can hypothesize that they may have some of these chronic illnesses. You could also worry that they just don’t get access. They don’t get to the hospital as early, and so it’s probably multiple reasons,” Vickers said.

In Michigan, where just 14 percent of the population is black, nearly 35 percent of the COVID-19 cases are among people, Vickers said.

Even more concerning, he said, is that even though only 14 percent of the population is black, 40 percent of the deaths are among black people.

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While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does typically track detailed data during a viral outbreak, including the racial makeup of patients, the CDC is not currently releasing such data for COVID-19.

Five members of Congress wrote a letter to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services on March 27 urging the CDC to collect and report data on race among COVID-19 cases.

“The C.D.C. is currently failing to collect and publicly report on the racial and ethnic demographic information of patients tested for and affected by Covid-19. Our concerns echo those from some physicians: that decisions to test individuals for the novel coronavirus may be ‘more vulnerable to the implicit biases that every patient and medical professional carry around with them,’ potentially causing ‘black communities and other underserved groups … [to] disproportionately mis[s] out on getting tested for Covid-19,” the letter reads.

Vickers also dispelled a rumor that kids can’t get COVID-19.

“Kids can get it, and young people have died from it,” Landers said, adding that a young person was treated at UAB for COVID-19. “Kids probably more often are carriers. They don’t often get very sick, but they carry the virus, and they can spread it.”

What makes COVID-19 so difficult to treat, compared to the regular seasonal flu, VIckers said, is that “there is no therapy we have right now.” There are clinical trials in the works, and some drugs are being used, but it’s not yet clear how well they’re working.

And unlike the regular seasonal flu, COVID-19 is much, much deadlier because it attacks the lower respiratory system, Vickers said. Patients with the novel coronavirus are more likely to be placed on ventilators.

“We have about 60 patients in the hospital who have the diagnosis of coronavirus. If we had in this season 100 patients with the flu in the hospital maybe five or 10 might be on a breathing machine,” Vickers said.

With the 60 patients UAB may have at any given time, nearly half of them are on a breathing machine, he said.

“So consequently now, there are a number of deaths, well over 60,000 deaths, in the world. There are 8,000 deaths in America and those numbers will continually climb,” Vickers said.

The best way to prevent yourself from getting COVID-19 and form helping spread it to others, is to keep at least six feet of distance from others, Vickers said, and suggested limiting interaction with others to groups of less than five.

“Keeping a distance, covering your mouth and nose with the mask, and trying to make sure every time you touch something clean your hands, Vickers said.

 

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What you need to know about Alabama’s stay-at-home order

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health issued a statewide stay-at-home order Friday. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the bottom line?

Stay at home if at all possible.

“The default position for everyone is they need to stay at home. We need to stay at home if at all possible,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said.

When does it start?

The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 4.

How long does it remain in effect?

The order is to remain in effect until Thursday, April 30 at 5 p.m., but it could be extended.

Why are we doing this?

By following these guidelines, you’re protecting the people who work in your community in essential functions. You’re also protecting yourself and the health care workers like nurses and doctors in the community so they won’t get sick.

Staying at home protects all of us, and it protects our hospitals from being overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 patients. Hospitals’ ability to care for those who are most vulnerable depends on not being overwhelmed.

What will happen if I don’t follow the order?

Not following the order can result in misdemeanor charges, fines and jail time, enforceable by all law enforcement agencies statewide.

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Can I still go to the grocery store?

Yes. Buying food — whether from a grocery store or from another store or restaurant (take-out or delivery) — is considered an essential activity and is allowed.

What are “essential activities”? 

  • You can still leave your home to obtain necessary supplies such as: Food, pet food, distance learning and educational materials, supplies needed to work from home, prescriptions and medical supplies, fuel and supplies for vehicles.

For what other reasons can I leave home?

  • Dental, medical, or surgical procedures, government-funded benefits, automobile repairs.
  • Services to care for people with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, or substance-use disorders. Educational services and services to maintain a person or pet’s health and safety.
  • To take care of a family member, friend or pet in another home, to donate blood, or take a family member, friend or pet to places allowed in Ivey’s order.

Are religious services exempted?

Some religious services are exempted:

  • You can leave home to attend a religious service, wedding or funeral, as long as 10 or fewer people are present and six-feet of distance is kept between people, and drive-in religious services.

What about my job?

Ivey’s order allows people to leave home to:

  • Work at an essential business.
  • Maintain the value of a business.
  • Work to enable people to work or shop remotely from home, or buy products through drive-by, curbside, or door- to-door delivery.
  • Work that does not require any regular interaction within six feet of another person.

What about getting outside for a while or leaving home during an emergency like severe weather?

People can still leave home to:

  • Engage in outdoor activities as long as 10 or fewer people participate and stay at least 6 feet from one another.
  • To take shelter if required by an employer of essential business, or if a person’s home is unsafe or at risk of becoming unsafe.
  • Fulfill the direction of a police officer or court order.
  • To see a family member

What’s closed under this order?

All non-essential businesses, which include:

  • Night clubs, bowling alleys, movie theaters and auditoriums, arcades, concert venues, tourist attractions, race tracks, bingo halls and casinos.
  • Athletic facilities including gyms, spas and spectator sports.
  • Close-contact businesses such as barbershops and salons, massage therapy and tanning salons.

What about restaurants? 

Dine-in is prohibited at all restaurants and bars, but take-out and delivery remain open.

Are there more exemptions?

Yes, but as State Health Officer Scott Harris said, the default assumption should be to stay at home unless you are engaging in essential activity.

“It’s not a list of things to look for and see if you can figure out a way to not keep yourself at home,” Harris said. “We need Alabamians to make sure that they stay at home. Things will look a lot different in our state in the next two or three weeks if we can just get people to see that and to agree to do that.”

Can I read the full order?

Yes, a copy of the full stay-at-home order is available here.

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Alabama Power working with UAB, Alabama Productivity Center to aid health care workers

Bill Britt

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Families across the state are under a stay-at-home order. Imagine a family of four stuck at home. Mom and Dad go to the garage to clean the clutter of boxes that have accumulated over the years, they turn on the lights, they don’t even think about where the energy came from, it’s automatic. A teenage daughter plugs in her smartphone after texting distant friends all day, where does the charge come from, does she care? A son still on his game console late into the night isn’t thinking about the power that enables his game, he just wants to play.

Now think about a medical professional caring for a COVID-19 patient in an ER, she needs a face-shield. It should be there, but maybe it’s not.

Alabama Power keeps the lights on, so the house is illuminated, the smartphone charges and the game console keeps humming, but recently the company stepped out of its usual role and is now making medical face shields in a partnership with The Alabama Productivity Center, and the UAB School of Engineering.

An email from within the Alabama Power Company landed in Scott Bishop’s inbox two weeks ago. Bishop is a team leader at APC’s Technology Application Center. “I received an email that asked did we know anyone who could do 3D printing to make headbands for face shields,” said Bishop.

Bishop knew immediately that within the companies network, there were resources with 3D printing capabilities that could possibly make medical face shields.

“In our network of people, some of those resources reside at UAB and the productivity center,” said Bishop. “So we looked at our capabilities and we had a printer and UAB had printers and so did the productivity center,  so we started printing headbands for UAB Hospital.”

From that initial email, a small network is now producing 100 face shields a day with more production ramping up as the days go by.

“Healthcare workers’ faces have been reported to be the body part most commonly contaminated by splashes, sprays and spatter of body fluids,” notes the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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As a PPE, face shields play an essential role in keeping healthcare workers safe when dealing with infectious deceases like COVID-19.

What started as a project to manufacture headbands has grown to crafting the full face shields.

Last week, the Alabama Productivity Center took to Twitter to showcase the face shields.

“Thank you to all of our partners and volunteers for helping out producing these shields! We have more & more request for the need of these shields. Please DM us if you can help! Here is what the final product looks like. #COVID19 #3DPrintedFaceShield.”

As part of the Culverhouse College of Business at UA, the Alabama Productivity Center is known as a premier source of innovative sustainable solutions to improve efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of Alabama business and industry.

APC offers student internships with businesses throughout the state giving students ability to explore career options, understand the nature of the industry world, and acquire valuable skills not taught in the classroom. Most students are juniors, seniors or graduate students with majors such as engineering, operation management, information technology, marketing and other disciplines, according to information provided by the university.

The UAB School of Engineering spread across five academic departments, provides undergraduate students with a solid foundation in engineering. With more than 15 graduate degree programs and tracks to choose from at the master and Ph.D. level, as well as a variety of certificate programs, UAB offers highly adaptable programs that range from traditional M.S./Ph.D. pathways to online master of engineering degree tracks for working professionals, according to the school curriculum.

Justin Koch at the UAB School of Engineering and Jody Beck at the Alabama Productivity Center are leading the charge at their respective institutions efforts to produce face shields.

UAB Hospital is supplying materials for the face shields; the teams at Alabama Power, UAB and UA are donating their time.

Alabama Power’s TAC facility serves as a demonstration and test facility that investigates ways to reduce production costs, improve energy efficiency and productivity while addressing environmental concerns.

“I look at it from our group’s perspective; we are helping our customers,” Bishop said. “In this case, our customer is the hospital’s staff. We are still helping our customers, just in a different way.”

“The Alabama Productivity Center, a non-profit organization, is an outgrowth of a 1983 joint venture of the University of Alabama and General Motors to save a Tuscaloosa GM plant from closing,” according to the center’s website. “The positive experience utilizing university faculty and students to save Alabama jobs led to the establishment and sponsorship by Alabama Power Company and the University of Alabama.”

“Safety has always been our top priority,” said APC spokesperson Katie Bolton. “As the pandemic has unfolded, this is one of the small ways we can take something that’s important to us and use our resources to help provide some safety for the frontline healthcare workers,” she continued. “We want these important health care workers to return home to their family’s and loved ones safely. That’s part of Alabama Power’s core value system.”

These types of private, university and state partnerships are increasingly becoming the backbone to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Opinion | It’s make or break time: The math behind social distancing

John Atkinson

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John Atkinson is the public relations and marketing director at East Alabama Medical Center.

On March 31, EAMC’s Chief of Staff Michael Roberts, M.D. used the Penn Medicine CHIME tool to look at where East Alabama Medical Center—and its collective communities—stand regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus and social distancing.  After sharing the resulting data with his colleague, Ricardo Maldonado, M.D., infectious disease specialist, the two knew it was make or break time.

“Social distancing is the number one denominator,” says Dr. Roberts, EAMC’s chief of staff.  “If we do a poor job of that—50 percent or less—then we’re in a situation where our hospital simply cannot handle the influx of ICU patients we will see or the number of ventilators we will need, and many people will die as a result. This includes even those without COVID-19 because we simply will not have the staff and equipment to keep up.”

When asked recently by a local official what percentage he thinks we are at currently, Dr. Roberts hesitated before answering. “I don’t know if I can put a number on our current performance,” said Dr. Roberts. “The website unacast.com recently gave the state of Alabama a grade of ‘D’ on social distancing, representing only a 55 percent decrease in non-essential visits. Lee County was a little better with a grade of ‘B minus,’ and Chambers County received a ‘D.’ If we really want to save lives and return to a sense of normalcy, we need to shoot for an ‘A,’ with 75-100 percent social distancing—not just in Lee County, but in all of the surrounding areas.”

Dr. Maldonado agreed, and did not mince words. “If we are not pro-active today, we won’t see light anytime soon.”

75 or 100 Percent

Looking at the social distancing percentages, if 75 percent of people comply, the peak number of COVID patients at EAMC at one time would be 74, with 28 of them in ICU and 21 of them on ventilators.  Those numbers are manageable, but the problem is that the peak is not until June 15, meaning that the 75 percent of people doing the right thing will have to do it for more than two more months.  “And that only gets us to the peak,” states Dr. Roberts. “We would still have COVID-19 in the community.”

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Using the following assumptions: population of 180,000, first hospitalization on March 16 and 64 patients currently hospitalized, the predictive modeling clearly shows that 100 percent social distancing is by far the best option.  Hopefully, the “stay at home” order put in place by Governor Kay Ivey, effective Saturday, is the catalyst to reach that 100 percent mark.

“Likely have thousands of cases in our area”

Some people point to the number of confirmed cases in the community and believe the situation is not so dire. Dr. Maldonado says that does not paint an accurate portrayal.  “The number of positive cases does not tell us the number of people with COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Maldonado. “We are testing less than 100 a day while we get almost 1,000 calls daily at 528-SICK. If we tested all 4 million people in Alabama at once, we could then know how many have it,” he says, followed by a disclaimer.  “Even if we did that, the next day, the number could multiply by 2 or 3 easily. The number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Dr. Maldonado goes on to say that 20 percent of adults will need to be hospitalized, “but this calculation does not include children who are likely the ones that have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all; and they will continue to infect other people.”

The bottom line, says Dr. Maldonado, is that “we likely have thousands of cases in our area if we include children. Each person can infect between two and three, or much more in large gatherings that include handshakes and touching.”

“The only real option”

Dr. Maldonado, who has 16 years of infectious disease experience, including 11 years at EAMC, says there is no time to waste. “We can see the top of the peak in less than three weeks if we practice 100 percent social distancing starting right now!  That means businesses can open back up sooner, people can spend time with friends and loved ones, and churches can meet sooner. The only real option—where this lasts the least amount of time and where the least amount of people die—is when we see 100 percent of our community practicing social distancing.”

What exactly is Social Distancing?

The term social distancing has been used a lot, but what exactly does it mean to practice social distancing.  Here are the key things to know:

  • Stay inside your home as much as possible.
  • If someone in your home shows symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath, fever of 100 or more), isolate them immediately and do not allow any non-family members into the house.
  • If you go outside to exercise or for other reasons, stay a minimum of 6 feet away from anyone and do not touch surfaces that others may have touched.
  • Use hand sanitizer before going back into your home. Or, wash your hands immediately inside your home and then sanitize your door and faucet handles.
  • Limit outings to food, healthcare, pharmacy and gas.
  • In those settings, stay a minimum of 6 feet away from anyone and do not touch surfaces that others may have touched.
  • Use hand sanitizer after opening doors, touching grocery carts, handling money of any form, and any surfaces that others may have touched.
  • Do not touch your face with your hands, especially your eyes, nose or mouth.
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