Check up on DJJ doctors
The Palm Beach Post
June 27, 2011
Anyone with an Internet connection can go online and see that Dr. Gold Smith Dorval is on probation with the Florida Board of Medicine and that his medical license was suspended because he stole money from Medicaid. Why, then, did the Department of Juvenile Justice allow him to treat children in state custody and prescribe powerful drugs for them?
DJJ's inspector general should expand her already ongoing investigation into the department's use of antipsychotic medications to answer that question. DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters ordered the inquiry after The Palm Beach Post reported that children in DJJ care are being prescribed heavy doses of the drugs.
A follow-up investigation by The Post's Michael LaForgia showed that several of the psychiatrists doing the prescribing have troubled pasts that, by law, should bar them from working for the agency.
"We will look," Ms. Walters said in an earlier interview, "at everything that surrounds this issue."
Certainly, the qualifications of the doctors employed by the agency falls into that category. As The Post reported, some psychiatrists working for DJJ were cited for overprescribing drugs that led to patient deaths. A simple background check can reveal much about a doctor's history. Even though DJJ requires such checks, in the case of Dr. Dorval and others, no one bothered.
DJJ does not have a system for tracking the medications taken by children in its care and has no way of knowing whether they actually need the prescriptions or if some of the doctors are drugging the kids simply to make them easier to control. When the doctor is someone like Charles Dack of Lakeland, who was disciplined for overprescribing drugs to a woman until she overdosed and died yet worked for DJJ until April, it's easy to suspect the latter. And that's unacceptable.
DJJ spokesman C.J. Drake said some doctors, such as Dr. Dorval, work for the agency through a third-party company. Those agencies should be required to prove that they have conducted background checks on all the doctors in their employ. Earlier this month, Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform announced that Florida is one of four states selected to participate in its Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project. "The fact that Florida stepped up and applied," said Shay Bilchik, founder and director of the center, "is a reflection of how seriously they take their responsibility."
The seriousness with which the agency addresses this issue will be an even better reflection of its commitment to reform.
- Rhonda Swan,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board