In June, the city of Homestead celebrated the allocation of $200,000 in state funds, earmarked for efforts that would promote sickle cell awareness in the region.
A news conference was held. Taking the lead was the cause’s biggest proponent — then-Homestead Councilman Jimmie Williams, a sickle cell patient himself.
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, affecting about 70,000 to 100,000 Americans, mostly African Americans, according to the American Society of Hematology. Florida has the highest number of sickle cell births, with the largest number of patients living in Miami-Dade County.
Hoping to provide those with the condition more access to pain management services, Williams, who initially requested the funds from Tallahassee, proposed using the money to open a clinic that would solely serve those with sickle cell disease.
The funds’ beneficiary? The Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research, which offers infusion therapy in Hollywood. Among the foundation’s patients is Jimmy Williams. The plan? Open up a second location in Homestead, he announced at the June news conference.
But Williams’ vision isn’t quite going as planned. On Wednesday, the new Homestead council, minus the recently defeated Williams, will debate whether the funds should go to the Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research to run a center in Homestead — Williams’ preference — or to Baptist’s Homestead Hospital for a new sickle cell clinic.
“The city, during its due diligence process, discovered some issues [about the foundation] that raised questions. The city has been in contact with various regulatory agencies as a result of those questions,” said Zackery Good, public information officer for Homestead.
“You see, $200,000 is not chump change and we need to be responsible on how we distribute that,” added Homestead Councilman Jon Burgess. “We have raised questions that have been forwarded to the state about the sickle cell foundation. In turn, even the state hasn’t been able to answer them, which raises even more questions about the legitimacy of the foundation.”
According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state entity that regulates clinics, the Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research, operating at 3858 Sheridan St. in Hollywood, doesn’t have a license and isn’t registered for an exemption.
The foundation, a for-profit company that provides healthcare services to individuals and accepts Medicaid, Medicare and third-party insurance companies, is wholly owned by Dr. Lanetta Bronté.
The center, serviced by licensed hematologist oncologist Gershwin Blyden, features an infusion suite similar to a dialysis center.
At issue is whether the Hollywood site qualifies as a “clinic” — and therefore is subject to licensing at all — or is something else.
Florida Statute 400.9905 defines a “clinic” as an “entity where healthcare services are provided to individuals and which tenders charges for reimbursement for such services, including a mobile clinic and a portable equipment provider.”
In an interview with the Herald, Bronté said the medical facility isn’t a clinic, but rather a “non-physician multi-speciality practice.”
“We are not held to the same type of regulation criteria,” she said.
Proponents of the Homestead facility have been giving mixed signals, however.
In a news release announcing the funding, Williams said the money would allow Bronté’s group to open a “clinic” in Homestead.
In the “our services” portion of its website, the foundation refers to its center as “comprehensive multi-specialty clinic.”
And in a Facebook post, the foundation says its current center is “affectionately known as the ‘Sheridan Street clinic.’ ”
AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman confirmed to the Herald that the facility is unregistered and said in an email that its status is “under review at this time.”
Separate from the AHCA requirement, physicians practicing pain-management by prescribing controlled substances to patients with chronic-non-malignant pain are required to register and be inspected by the Florida Department of Health.
According to the DOH, the only licensed physician operating at the center is not registered at that location.
According to state rules, pain-management clinics are those “that advertise in any medium for any type of pain-management services or where in any month a majority of patients are prescribed certain controlled substances for the treatment of chronic non-malignant pain.”
It’s not clear whether that would apply to the Hollywood center, although here, too, proponents have provided mixed signals.
In its advertisement with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the foundation says it provides treatment for “patient-tailored pain management,” among other services.
And in a video posted last October on Youtube, then-Councilman Williams promotes the clinic’s provision of pain meds alongside Bronté.
“He’s here for treatment today,” Bronté says in the video. Williams then proceeds to talk about his “first infusion here at the clinic.”
“After they infused me and gave me the necessary pain meds,” he says.
Bronté told the Herald that while her practice offers treatments that help manage pain, it “isn’t a pain management clinic” and that her business “does not require a license.”
Williams did not respond to phone calls from the Herald.
Hollywood’s occupancy permit allows only a “medical office” and stipulates “no dispensing of medication on site permitted and “no pain management.”
Sources told the Miami Herald that both the Department of Health and law enforcement officials are looking into the matter.
The DOH would neither confirm nor deny an investigation.
Records also show that “Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research” is a for-profit limited liability corporation, with Bronté as its president. Bronté also runs a non-profit organization called Florida Sickle Inc., which hosts an annual educational symposium promoting sickle cell disease research.
According to records, the nonprofit does business as “The Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research” — a name that is identical to the for-profit.
Doug White, a national expert and longtime adviser to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists, said having a non-profit and and a for-profit with identical or near-identical names can cause confusion for those trying to track money.
Bronté told the Herald she set it up that way for branding reasons and to avoid confusion.
The Homestead City Council will meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall, 100 NE Civic Ct.
The address of the Hollywood sickle cell center, incorrect in an earlier version of this story because of an editing error, has been corrected. Additionally, the earlier version misstated the way the drug GBT440 is taken. It is administered orally.