Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Surgeon Accused of Hundreds of Injuries
An orthopedic surgeon in Florida is being sued for allegedly causing hundreds of life-altering injuries in his patients, as well as one death, after he started showing signs of a progressive neurological disorder, according to a report from NBC News.
According to court documents reviewed for the article, Richard David Heekin, MD, was accused by former patients of surgical errors leading to “hundreds of devastating injuries,” including bone fractures, ruptured tendons, and severe nerve damage. The alleged injuries occurred between 2016 and 2020, and patients also claimed to witness Heekin’s deteriorating mental condition during that time, according to the report.
Patients claimed that Heekin slurred his words, was unable to concentrate, had difficulty with balance, and showed erratic behavior, angry outbursts, and impaired judgement, according to the court documents reviewed by NBC News.
In total, 350 lawsuits have been filed, and at least an additional 100 lawsuits are expected before the end of the year, according to NBC News. Heekin, his clinic, and Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, are named as defendants in lawsuits.
Heekin was accused of having progressive supranuclear palsy, but there were no details suggesting when hospital officials became aware of his worsening condition, the article stated. Several physicians and nurses had voiced concerns about Heekin and his ability to practice medicine, according to court documents.
The first trial in the case is reportedly scheduled for August 2023.
DOJ Investigates Alzheimer’s Biotech
The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Cassava Sciences over possible manipulated data for its experimental Alzheimer’s drug simufilam, according to Reuters.
According to two anonymous sources interviewed by Reuters, the DOJ investigators specialize in cases related to defrauded or misled investors, government agencies, or consumers, but the sources did not provide specific details about the investigation.
Cassava Sciences’ lawyer, Kate Watson Moss, told Reuters that the company “vehemently denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing” in a statement. She also noted that the company has not been charged with a crime.
Cassava Sciences faced scrutiny from the SEC and investors after two physicians accused the company of manipulating research on its Alzheimer’s drug, according to the article. In a statement from last year, the company called those allegations “false and misleading.”
The physicians, David Bredt, MD, PhD, a former neuroscientist for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, and Geoffrey Pitt, MD, PhD, director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Cardiovascular Research Institute in New York, filed a petition in August 2021 asking the FDA to halt clinical trials of simufilam. The FDA denied the petition.
How the Strategic National Stockpile Fell Short
The Strategic National Stockpile gained widespread notoriety in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic after it failed to provide healthcare workers with lifesaving resources and supplies. Those early failures were related to a series of choices about resource procurement “made by an obscure governing body” without input from healthcare workers or domestic manufacturers, according to an exclusive report by NBC News.
Those decisions hampered the distribution of protective gear or lifesaving medical equipment to health care systems in the heights of COVID-19 case numbers, NBC News reported.
Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, told NBC News that the stockpile “fell short,” which became apparent “when the whole world needed the same thing at the exact same time and none of it was here.”
Now, O’Connell and other White House officials are working to address that failure and make sure the warehouses are stocked and adequately prepared for a future crisis.
One example of the failure of the stockpile was in the number of available N95 masks as the pandemic started. The U.S. had “just 35 million N95 masks on hand,” many of them left over from a 2009 purchase. It was estimated that the country needed as many as 3.5 billion N95 masks to appropriately protect healthcare workers during the pandemic, the article stated.
Greg Burel, who directed the Strategic National Stockpile between 2010 and 2020, told NBC News that lack of preparedness was due to a lack of funding. He said the stockpile received “about $700 million of the $1 billion they requested from Congress.” Burel believed the additional funds would have made a huge difference in the early response to the pandemic.
The Biden administration has worked with domestic manufactures to re-supply the stockpile, according to the report. As of June, the stockpile had “acquired 541 million N95 respirators, 4.8 billion gloves, and 158,000 ventilators, with more supply expected as manufacturing ramps up, according to figures provided by the agency,” the article stated.