In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: If it’s payback, it ain’t worth much

The press has been so very unfair to Carlos Trujillo, harping on a sly piece of legislation he finagled on behalf of Ernesto Perez and Dade Medical College.

State Rep. Trujillo tacked a rider onto an unrelated bill last spring that allowed private for-profit schools, very much like the operation owned by his buddy Perez, to offer physical therapist assistant degrees without the bother of those damn nuisance accreditation standards required by the Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education.

The new law enabled Dade Medical to offer lucrative physical therapist assistance programs at all five South Florida campuses.

Trujillo has been dogged by this teensy coincidence: The Herald’s Michael Vasquez discovered that Trujillo’s sister-in-law has been able to attend Dade Medical tuition-free. Tuition, at Dade Medical, is not unsubstantial. The physical therapist assistant course, for example, costs $35,050.

Rep. Trujillo denied an ethical conflict. A sister-in-law, he told the Herald by e-mail, was not “an immediate family member as defined by the relevant Florida Statutes.” He added that he had no knowledge about “her financial aid status” and wouldn’t ask. “I’m not going to dig into my sister-in-law’s personal finances.”

Some politicians might have thought the question was still worth asking. But anyone finding fault with Trujillo’s ethics ought to consider another factor: A tuition-free course at Dade Medical may not be such a valuable commodity.

The Herald’s Vasquez noted that graduates of Dade Medical College’s nursing programs in Miami and Hollywood campuses have been so poorly prepared for state licensing exams that both programs have been put on probation. Only 34 percent of the Miami campus grads and only 39 percent in Hollywood pass the test.

Students paying for physical therapist assistant degrees at Dade Medical face even more profound issues. Graduates not accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education may be barred from working in other states. And medical operations that hire unaccredited grads may not qualify for reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid.

If students at Dade Medical, as many of them complain, aren’t getting much for their hefty tuition fees, than Trujillo can argue that his sister-in-law’s free tuition’s not much of a payback.

Besides, Trujillo’s not the only one co-opted by Dade Medical. Perez has acquired a stable of local politicians, giving them jobs, hiring them as lobbyists, flying them around on corporate jets, hiring their spouses, lavishing campaign contributions on them.

Carol Davis of the University of Miami’s Department of Physical Therapy complained in a letter to the editor about the slick way Perez got around Dade Medical’s accreditation problems: “He simply paid a lobbyist, Carlos Trujillo, to sneak a rider onto an unrelated bill and, all of a sudden, Florida physical therapist assistant programs can be ‘accredited’ by any accreditation agency.”

That’s not quite true. Trujillo’s an elected state rep, not a lobbyist. When he got Carlos Trujillo, Perez eliminated the middle man.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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