I saw this driving around town and snapped a picture. Why would someone put something like that on their vehicle? What are they trying to say?
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some things drive me nuts
I saw this driving around town and snapped a picture. Why would someone put something like that on their vehicle? What are they trying to say?
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Thanks to my appearances on the local media recently about the pill mills, I was invited to be a guest on a local radio show: Prescription Addiction Radio. I was on for about 20 minutes last Sunday. I just checked the website to see if the show is available for people to listen to, but they have a note on the site saying they’re having technical difficulties, so I’m hoping it will get posted later.
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Here are the other two interviews I did that landed me on local TV.
The first is from the day of the raid – May 20th. I happened to have students coming over for dinner that night (from a small May class I taught). A reporter from Fox 13 stopped by before my students did and asked me if I’d walk down the street around 9:00 and do an interview that would air at 10:00. Since my students were still around, they walked down with me and got to watch to the interview from the Fox 13 news van:
This second video is from a few days later (May 24th). A different news program, NewsChannel 8, contacted me for an interview. I did this one in our backyard:
I mention something in this video only briefly that I didn’t mention in the others – an assault I witnessed. This was also mentioned in the St. Petersburg Times article. Here’s the long version of that encounter:
The day before the raid (May 19th), Leonora LaPeter Anton, the reporter from The St. Petersburg Times, and Stephen J. Coddington, a photographer for The St. Petersburg Times, came over. I’d already spoken with Leonora at length about the clinic, but she wanted to talk some more and check the place out. She and Stephen arrived around 4:00. We chatted for a bit, then walked around my neighbor’s house and into the alley behind my house where I showed them the rear door to the Tampa Bay Wellness Centre, when it was behind my house. I walked them around the front so they could see the front as well. We then walked down the street about a block to the new location, 2137 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It was about 4:45 or so at this point, and the clinic was still humming with activity. There were probably 75 to 100 people waiting around in the parking lot for their prescriptions. Leonora, Stephen, and I stood out front on the sidewalk, talking, taking notes, and taking pictures. Leonora approached one person who looked like he worked there, but he basically wouldn’t say anything. Several people stared at us, including one young guy who was probably in his early to mid-twenties. He was standing directly in front of the building (we were a little to the west of it at this point). He was wearing a baggy yellow outfit and looked like a gang banger. He had a solid gold grill. I’ve generally tried to be nice to the people at the clinic, but this guy looked and acted like a thug. Ergo, he is the “yellow-shirt thug.”
One of the things we were doing while standing there was noticing license plates. At least 70% of the cars were from out of state, and we were wondering just how far out of state they were. So, when we saw one from far away (e.g., Nebraska), we’d mention it. Stephen thought he saw a unique license place, so he stepped off the sidewalk toward the fence surrounding the parking area to get a better look. As soon as he did, yellow-shirt thug came running at him/us. He started cursing and yelling at us, “Get the f*ck out of here! What are you trying to do? Ruin people’s lives by putting them on the news?” (etc. etc.). He got right up into our faces and feinted several times as though he was going to attack us. I noted for him that we had no obligation to leave that spot as we were on a sidewalk, which is public property. He said he didn’t care. He then threatened Stephen by saying, “If you take another f*cking picture I’ll smash your camera.” I told him he’d go to jail for that. He said a few more choice words, postured a bit more, then walked away.
After we calmed down a bit, we decided we’d cross the street to see if we could talk to the owners of the pharmacy and daycare that were directly across MLK from the pain clinic. We crossed over to the pharmacy, David’s Pharmacy, and eventually got the owner’s wife to talk to us. The people at the pharmacy were very nice and we ended up talking to them at length (they were mentioned in the St. Petersburg Times article).
Just as we were finishing up the interview with the pharmacy owners, we started to notice something weird was going on. Yellow-shirt thug, and a similarly dressed green-shirted thug, were slinking around the west side of the daycare headed north, toward the pain clinic. You can see everything in this map:
Leonora, Stephen and I were standing were you see the blue smiley face. We were looking east (to the right of the photo) and watched yellow- and green-shirt thugs slink along the red line, from behind the daycare (past the fenced in play area), along the side of the daycare on the daycare’s property, across MLK and into the pain clinic parking lot. I saw them slink past and thought it was weird, but didn’t really pay much attention to it as we were still talking to the owner of the pharmacy. It was about 5:30 at this point and the daycare’s parking lot was full of parents picking up their children. The traffic along MLK was also crazy busy.
A couple minutes after the two thugs headed north across MLK, we then saw yellow- and green-shirt thugs come running with an elderly guy chasing them right back along the red path. The elderly guy was carrying four large pieces of concrete in his hands and had blood dripping from his mouth and down his chin. The two thugs ran right along the red path and disappeared behind the daycare. At this point, chaos was breaking out at the daycare. A parent, holding his young daughter, saw a marked police car in the traffic on MLK and flagged it down. It pulled into the parking lot and two non-uniformed police officers jumped out and chased down the elderly guy, forcing him to drop the rocks and pinning his arms behind his back. The owner of the daycare was out of the daycare at this point trying to figure out what was going on.
Eventually a woman dressed in scrubs crossed the street from the pain clinic to see how the elderly guy was doing and explained what happened. Here’s the story as she told it to us. Yellow- and green-shirt thugs were “patients” at the clinic, not employees. The elderly guy was the janitor at the clinic. Yellow-shirt thug parked his vehicle in such a fashion that other “patients” weren’t able to get out of the clinic. So, the people inside the clinic told the elderly guy to tell yellow-shirt thug to move his vehicle. The elderly guy approached yellow-shirt thug, who quickly escalated the request into a shouting match. He was clearly looking for a fight. While yellow-shirt thug and the elderly guy were yelling at each other, green-shirt thug snuck up behind the elderly guy and suckered punched him, breaking his jaw! The two thugs then jumped into their vehicle and drove off. However, the didn’t really leave; they just pulled up behind the daycare. They were clearly itching for more fighting. When we saw them slink past the daycare, they were headed back to the clinic to finish off the job they started. When they got there, the elderly guy’s nephew was with him, so they started in on him. That’s when the elderly guy picked up the concrete chunks and started chasing them. We saw what happened after that.
Once all this came out, the police called an ambulance for the elderly guy, who left in it to have his jaw repaired. Unfortunately, the thugs got away. Argh!
Anyway, that’s the long version of the story. Great place to have in your neighborhood, huh?!? This is precisely why I’ve been saying I’m ecstatic to see the place gone. Most of the “patients” at the clinic weren’t really in need of pain medication. They were addicts or dealers getting drugs. Good riddance!
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Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking with Leonora LaPeter Anton at the St. Petersburg Times about the pill mill/pain management center that was behind my house. Her story hit the paper today: Pill mill’s demise brings relief to neighbors. Here’s the picture from that story:
Apparently my picture is in the print edition as well.
Oh, and Channel 8 here locally interviewed me for a brief story as well that aired on the 24th.
I’ve had several people jokingly tell me I’m famous from all the attention this has been getting. I blew it off as I highly doubted anyone would really think of me as famous. Friday kind of drove home how widespread the attention has been. I was walking Toren over to a nearby Chinese restaurant to pick up some take out food for dinner. As I was leaving the restaurant, a car pulled up to a stop sign as we were crossing the street. The driver was probably in his late 60s. He rolled down his window and said, “Hey, are you the guy from TV?” Stunned, I sputtered out, “Yeah, I guess.” He then said, “That is so awesome! I’m so happy you did what you did. I live around here and hated that place. I’m so glad to see they’re gone. Thank you! Oh, and your son is really adorable.” He then drove off.
I’ve had a number of people from work mention they saw the news coverage and even had a nurse at the ENT place where I get my allergy shots thank me for standing up to this place. Apparently people do watch the news!
Despite the attention, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite documentaries, The UP Series, which is a multi-part documentary that tracks the lives of 10 or so British kids, starting when they were 7 in 1964, all the way through today. In that series, one of the people who is tracked becomes a college professor. And in one of the later episodes, he says, “My goal in life is to be more famous for my research than for being in this film.” That’s exactly how I feel about this pain management clinic. Yes, I’m glad it was shut down, but I never wanted that to be my claim to fame. Hopefully my research will eventually get more press than this.
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So, my regular readers may have forgotten, but I posted about the pain management clinic behind my house, along with the pharmacy, a few months ago. Yesterday they were raided by the DEA and Tampa Police. This has been all over the news the last day or so and is front page news everywhere here in Tampa. Here are some sample links, in case you’re interested:
I’ve been contacted by reporters from multiple outlets and was on TV again last night being interviewed about this. I haven’t been able to find that video online, but I Tivo’d it and will post it when I get a chance.
Anyway, I just wanted to say “boo-yah” to the scumbags running this thing. I knew they were running a pill mill all along; now everyone else does too. I wonder how much help my little blog was in all of this… 😉
Oh, and I’ve been doing a little more digging on this… Look for a follow-up post later today (even though I have real work I should be doing).
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The St. Petersburg Times has a good story on the pain management clinic epidemic in Hillsborough County today. Obviously Tampa Bay Wellness Center is not alone in doling out prescription drugs (in all likelihood to addicts and dealers, though I don’t know that for certain). The story says the police are finally starting to do something about this – though it takes a drug overdose death every 35 hours in Hillsborough County to make this happen. Apparently the problem has to do with prescription drug oversight – there is no electronic tracking system in place, so there is no way to know how many drugs are being prescribed by doctors. Ergo, doctors in Hillsborough County can prescribe thousands and thousands of pills a week and no one will stop by to say anything about it. Tampa needs a new slogan: Come Visit Tampa, Where Narcotics Are an MRI Away!
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I wrote up my experience with the pain management clinic behind my house on my blog a few months ago. Since then, a lot has happened. A bunch of people have emailed me about the clinic; I’ve talked to lawyers and reporters and patients and documentary film makers about this. I’m not sure what will eventually happen to the clinic, but the local Fox News affiliate ran a story on them last night that included an interview with me:
Oh, and all the night footage – I shot that! Doug Smith asked me if I could, so I snuck out there one night around 9:00 pm and shot the people walking around in the middle of the night.
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I’ve now been to four Disney parks: Disney Land (California), Disney World Magic Kingdom (Florida), Disney World Epcot Center (Florida), and Disney World Animal Kingdom (Florida). I went to Disney Land when I was younger, though I have some memories of various attractions (the Matterhorn, Swiss Family Robinson House, the Haunted House, and the nightmarish It’s a Small World). Debi and I went to Epcot a few years ago. Last weekend I went to the other two while some of Debi’s family was visiting.
If you’ve ever discussed Disney with me, you’ll know that I’m not a fan. I have a lot of reasons why, but here are some of the main ones.
If you simply change the context, can’t you imagine a horror movie that includes these dolls coming to life and tearing people to shreds? Or maybe they are secretly possessed by evil spirits – that would make a great independent film: It’s A Small World… And Then You Die! Yeah, Disney is creepy at some weird level (at least it is to me).
In short, Disney is everything that is wrong with corporate America. It steals from individuals and the public domain, but gives nothing back to the public domain. It monetizes fantasy. It pays lip service to tolerance, but in fact reinforces and even sells stereotypes. And it uses social psychology to try to deceive people into feeling welcome when the real intent is simply to take their money. Yep, Disney is a pernicious evil.
But this post isn’t quite over. I have yet to introduce the irony: I’m going back, at least two more times in the next two months. Why, you ask? And yes, you should ask that considering what I just wrote. Well, Disney had a special offer when we bought our tickets for Florida residents – 4 days at any of the 4 parks for $99.00, which is less than you’d pay to go for just 2 days. Since we were going for 2 days, we figured we should buy the 4 day pass. And now that we have the passes, I can’t help but think that I should maximize their value to me. So, I’m going to go back and do some more ethnographic research on Disney. Maybe I’ll ask some of the employees why they wave all the time. Maybe I’ll shoot one of the dolls in It’s A Small World for being so creepy. Maybe I won’t stare during the parade and repeatedly utter under my breath during it “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen; how could anyone find it interesting.” Or maybe I’ll just go, try not to be a sociologist, and enjoy myself.
There is another smaller bit of irony. I enjoyed going to Disney last weekend. What?!? Really, what?!? After that lengthy, mean diatribe you’re telling me you enjoyed it? Yes, I did. But not for the reason you think. I enjoyed it because I got to spend time with my family. Being at Disney wasn’t the important factor (though I did enjoy the Everest ride in the Animal Kingdom); being with family was. Would I go back if my extended family wanted to? Absolutely! Family comes first! Family even comes before sociological analysis of the most perniciously evil place on earth – Disney.
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I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but in the last few months a new pain management clinic was opened in the strip mall behind our house called Tampa Bay Wellness Centre. For two and a half years, we’ve had no problems with the strip mall that is just over our fence. But in the last few months, that has changed.
On January 31st, a Saturday, Debi and I woke up to the sounds of chainsaws. I didn’t immediately realize from where the sound was coming, but soon realized that someone was cutting down all of the trees on the other side of our fence by the strip mall. No one had approached us about doing this. What’s more, the previous owner of the house who put in our fence, didn’t actually put the fence on our property line, but instead put the fence about 2 to 3 feet away from our property line because he didn’t want to cut down those trees. Ergo, the trees they were cutting down were actually at least partially our trees, on our property. I went out, stuck my head over the fence, and got the attention of the woman who was cutting down the trees. I mentioned to her that the trees were on my property, which immediately gave her pause. She was hired to cut them down and was told that they were on the property of the owner of the strip mall. She immediately went to talk to the person who had hired her to let him know that this was sketchy. He and another business owner then came around to my place where I was out talking with my neighbor, to apologize and try to smooth things over. A little late – the trees were already cut down!
Over the last month, with the trees gone, we’ve had several instances where people have been walking around in the alley behind the strip mall at 11:00 pm talking loudly or yelling. I went out there a couple of weeks ago after a guy had been talking loudly for over an hour at 11:00 pm and popped my head over our fence. I don’t know who he was, but he didn’t wait around – he dropped his phone and ran.
One other time over the past week there have been people talking loudly in the alley at night. But last night, at 11:00 pm, it was really getting on my nerves. Then a car alarm went off, waking up Toren. I’d had enough. I went into our backyard to see what was going on, but by that time no one was back there, despite there still being 6 or 7 cars in the alley. So I decided I’d walk around to the front of the strip mall to see what was going on.
I’m probably too naive to realize that this was very risky, but I was pissed. As I walked around the corner to the strip mall and started to head down the sidewalk, I started noticing a group of people hanging out in front of the Tampa Bay Wellness Centre. As I got closer, I realized these people were not really the kind of people I’d want to run into late at night – they were wearing tattered clothing, looked unkempt, looked to be in relatively poor health, had various scars, and looked, well, mean. Having no experience with drug dealers, I can’t say for certain that’s what they looked like, but that was the initial impression I received – white, scummy, drug dealers. There were about 6 or 7 of them standing in front of the Tampa Bay Wellness Centre. When I got to the door of this “clinic”, I started to ask the people sitting around outside if it was open, but then one of them opened the door and walked in, so I followed him. Inside, at 11:00pm on a Friday night, there were at least another 15 to 20 people sitting around a makeshift clinic, watching TV. They looked just like the people outside.
Cut into one wall was a window where I assumed the staff were. I waited while the guy who entered before me asked if he was up yet. Then it was my turn. In the little, unfinished, and really scary looking office, there were three people I could see – a young woman, a young man, and Gloria, a middle-aged woman. I started right in on them, complaining about the noise and wanting to know what was going on. Gloria was the one who piped up and denied that it was them, claiming that they didn’t let anyone back in the alley. BS! I mentioned the car alarm and told them I have an 8-month old son. She apologized, then said that they were going to be leaving in a week. When I asked why, the young man said, “Does it matter? You don’t want us to leave?” To which I responded, “No, you leaving would be great, but it just looks funny for you to set up shop for a month or two then leave.” Anyway, I ended up getting the card of the Doctor who supposedly runs the clinic and Gloria’s name, then warned her that I would start phoning in noise complaints to the police every time I heard them from now on. At this, one of the patrons said, “If you have a problem with this place, you can go talk to the police officer who is watching it from his cruiser in the parking lot over.” I told him I just might.
I walked out to glares from some of the patrons, then headed back the way I came. I did notice as I walked that there was a Tampa Police cruiser in the parking lot opposite the clinic as the patron said, so I went over to the cruiser to see what was going on. I think he was a bit wary at first, but when I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, he relaxed and we started to chat. He was, in fact, observing this “clinic” because the police are fairly confident that what is happening is that the doctor is simply writing whatever patients walk in prescriptions for narcotics and painkillers. My neighbor and I had guessed this was what was happening, but to hear the police confirm that it was the suspicion was surprising, especially because the officer said there was nothing they could do at this point. That annoyed me because the local police recently busted a bunch of people in the Tampa area doing just this. As we talked, the officer was amazed to hear that I had gone into the clinic. He was also amazed that it was open at 11:00pm on a Friday night. He kept saying, “I don’t know of any doctor’s offices that are open that late at night.” Anyway, the officer was nice and did confirm that I could call in noise complaints after 11:00 whenever they occurred. So, I’ll be doing that.
But I also decided to look into things a bit more this morning. Here’s what my internet sleuthing has discovered:
Ronald J. Heromin
Ronald J. Heromin is the doctor who is running the Tampa Bay Wellness Centre. He is licensed in Florida. However, he was been disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine, on April 4, 2009, for beginning to operate on a patient’s wrong leg. (You can see a copy of the discipline decision here as well.) Unfortunately that only ended in a $5,000 fine. Dr. Heromin has also recently filed for bankruptcy with close to $150,000 in debt. This sounds like the perfect recipe for a doctor to start slumming it, doling out prescriptions for narcotics. I, of course, cannot say that Dr. Heromin is doing that, but his clinic is certainly sketchy. The clientèle were sketchy. And staying open late at night on a Friday doling out prescriptions in a clinic that, from my quick purview, doesn’t even have a room to see patients seems really, really sketchy. So, I don’t know what Dr. Heromin is doing, but it’s not above reproach.
Because I don’t want to keep the card I took that night any longer, I’m posting all of the information it included here:
Tampa Bay Wellness Centre
Office of Ronald J. Heromin, M.D.
1943 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607
Phone: (813) 374-8950
Fax: (813) 374-8949
Ettinberg Properties, LLC & Haim Goldenberg
The owner of the strip mall where Tampa Bay Wellness Centre is located is Haim Goldenberg, the registered agent of Ettinberg Properties, LLC. Here’s the property tax information on the property, which says it is worth $1.4 million. And here’s the corporate information on Ettinberg Properties, LLC. Apparently he’s living quite well – here’s a picture of his home courtesy of Google Maps. It’s 2009 market value is $688,764.00. He’s also the registered agent of Universal Auto Leasing Inc. at 8542 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33614, which looks like some strange car rental or leasing location. I’d laugh if this also happens to be Haim Goldenberg, the famed Israeli mentalist, but I doubt it.
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You can’t get your healthcare provider to talk to itself.
Some background to explain. Upon moving to Florida, I took a job at the University of Tampa with Ryan, where I had good health insurance. A large chunk of that insurance was covered by the University and we didn’t really worry about the insurance that much. Our insurer: BlueCross BlueShield of Florida. But upon the termination of my contract at the University of Tampa, we had to decide what we were going to do about insurance.
Turns out, the insurance at the University of Tampa is far from perfect. Ryan is covered under a minimal insurance option, at no cost to himself – he literally pays nothing to cover himself. To add Toren with the minimal coverage plan costs about $60.00 per month. To add me to his plan (and not Toren) would cost $80.00 per month. One would think, then, that to add both of us to his plan would be something like $140.00 per month. And thinking that would be wrong! Nope, it’s closer to $340.00 per month for a family plan. Now, if we had 5 or 10 kids, that would be a steal. But couples with 1 kid are charged the same as couples with 10 kids, or 20. So, what did we do? I ended up getting insurance as a student at the University of South Florida for… $80.00 per month!
Here’s where it gets fun. The plan Ryan is on is kind of a minimalist plan – there are high deductibles and you pay a percentage of every visit or prescription, but the premium is low. But here’s how BlueCross BlueShield of Florida describes their student plan that I am on:
You know a plan can’t be very good when the best the insurer can do when describing it is to call it a “limited benefits” plan.
Of course, the transition from BlueCross BlueShield of Florida to BlueCross BlueShield of Florida couldn’t go smoothly – this is a health insurance company after all. To begin with, I was denied coverage for a pre-existing condition because I did not have evidence of prior coverage. Yes, you read that right, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida denied me coverage for a pre-existing condition because they had no evidence that I was covered prior to switching to the student plan by… BlueCross BlueShield of Florida. After getting the correct form from the University of Tampa HR department and sending it to BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida denied my claim that I had pre-existing coverage, again. So, what does this say about health insurance providers? BlueCross BlueShield of Florida can’t communicate with BlueCross BlueShield of Florida. It’s the same fracking company!!!
Do we need healthcare reform in the U.S.? Duh!
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