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Pa. treatment providers face little state scrutiny


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 29, 2021
State scrutiny, data release, secret tool, QAnon events, moratorium impacts, attorney charged, jail risks, and all ramped up. It's Thursday, aka Friday Jr.
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Pennsylvania has allowed addiction treatment providers to continue operating despite repeated violations of state regulations and harm to clients, a Spotlight PA/KHN investigation has found.

More than 80 interviews and a review of thousands of pages of government and court records revealed that the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs lacks resources and regulatory power, uses an inherently flawed oversight system that does little to ensure high-quality or effective care, and rarely takes strong disciplinary action against facilities when so many Pennsylvanians need services.

Among the investigation's findings: 

  • The department has no standard criteria for when it should force facilities to serve fewer patients and, as of early April, had revoked just one treatment provider’s license in nearly a decade.
  • It doesn’t regularly compare facilities to see if any stand out for an unusual number of violations or the most client deaths.
  • And since state inspections focus heavily on records, they can be tricked with fraudulent paperwork, former employees in the treatment field said.

This leaves Pennsylvanians in the dark about which treatment facilities have troubling track records.

THE CONTEXT: Even though the department provides the licenses that allow addiction treatment facilities to operate, Secretary Jennifer Smith said it has limited responsibility for them.

Smith said people should pick treatment facilities the same way they do primary care doctors, based on publicly available information, personal recommendations, and discussions with insurers.

But public information is limited, and many employees and clients in the treatment field are skeptical of any long-term improvement.

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"Then he pulled out his .357 and said n-----, what the hell are you doing out here at 5 o'clock in the morning? If I catch you out here again, I'm going to blow your damn head off."  

—Allegheny County Councilmember DeWitt Walton, who is Black, recalling a 1978 traffic stop and police encounter before voting yes on the creation of an Allegheny County police review board on Tuesday
VACCINE UPDATE: Philadelphians who need a coronavirus vaccine are urged to stop by the Pennsylvania Convention Center today, as 4,000 extra doses are set to expire. No appointment is necessary, just arrive at 1101 Arch St. before 4 p.m. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» A LIVE GUIDE TO THE MAY PRIMARY: On Tuesday, May 4 at 5 p.m., join Spotlight PA as we break down the judicial candidates and four questions you’ll see on the primary ballot. RSVP FOR FREE
» BE PREPARED: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates. We'll have more resources in the days and weeks ahead.
Thanks, @wvubush for this flyover shot of Ohiopyle State Park. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
DATA DRIVE: County-level race, ethnicity, and gender data are now being made available for Pennsylvania’s vaccine recipients, the Capital-Star reports. The disclosure follows criticism of the state's gathering of such data in planning its pandemic response, per Spotlight PA.

INTERNAL INQUIRY: Pittsburgh police say any communication between staff and the maker of a controversial surveillance tool happened without permission, PublicSource reports, and an investigation is underway after BuzzFeed News counted between 101 and 500 bureau searches on Clearview AI's software, possibly in violation of internal policy.

Q CLUB: A Pennsylvania state senator and a candidate for state Supreme Court will apparently join an expert on "government-sponsored mind control" at a QAnon-branded conference in Gettysburg this June, the Capital-Star reports. Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano and Republican county judge Paula Patrick are on the roster.

EVICTION FREEZE: The pandemic could have been worse in Philadelphia had evictions not been halted, new research finds. Why? "Mainly, we found that eviction moratoria likely prevent the number of COVID-19 cases, as the merging of households increases the transmission," U. Penn researcher Michael Levy told Philly Mag.

PROSTITUTION CASE: The president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association has resigned after being charged with soliciting a sex worker who then tried to extort him with video of their sexual encounter, the Times Leader reports. David Eric Schwager, 58, of Kingston, is facing a misdemeanor count stemming from the 2019 encounter. 
JAIL SHOTS: Pennsylvania lacks a clear plan for vaccinating people incarcerated in county jails and is not providing shots to them currently, WLVR reports, even with corrections facilities at high risk of outbreaks. In state prisons, low vaccination rates among guards are raising similar concerns, as Spotlight PA's Joseph Darius Jaafari told WESA's The Confluence.

COLLEGE CRAM: A plan to merge six struggling state-owned universities into two is moving forward, TribLIVE reports. If approved, the merger could take effect by the 2022-23 academic year. A 60-day public comment period on the plan is now open. Feedback can be submitted here.

CONSTITUTION HALL: Months after losing his teaching gig over in-person encouragement of Jan. 6 Capitol rioters, former Pennsylvania lawmaker Rick Saccone has opened a "Constitution and Godly Heritage Discovery Center." The Observer-Reporter raises the obvious overlap question.

THE RAMPS: I became a true Pennsylvanian the day a grizzled forager in the Allegheny National Forest overheard me call a wild ramp a leek and stopped to issue a terse and lengthy correction. The Post-Gazette has more on the oniony sprout with an eye on the sustainability of popular wild harvests

GRADUATION DAY: Chicken baskets won't be sold at next week's graduation ceremony at Penn State's Beaver Stadium, which the Daily Collegian leads me to believe is a fairly big deal. But you can make your own.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Understanding

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Becky C., Craig W., Bob R., Myles M., Elaine C., Patricia M., Neal W., Susan D., Irene R., Kevin H., Dixie S., Al M., Ken S., Christine M., Bill C., Beth T., Steve D., Elizabeth W., Mary Kay M., Lance L., Irene T., Heidi B., Joel S., Carol D., George S., Dennis M., Dianne K., Meg M., Theodore W., David W., Richard D., Karen W., Suzanne S., James B., Patricia R., Diane P., Thomas B., Michelle T., David I., and Chris R.


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