Homestead - South Dade

Baptist Homestead gets $200K for sickle cell center. Politician’s alternate plan booted.

Jimmy Williams III
Jimmy Williams III

Baptist’s South Dade campus will be opening a new clinic to serve sickle cell patients after the Homestead City Council decided that a $200,000 state grant would go to the neighborhood hospital, not to a Hollywood center patronized and promoted by a former councilman.

On Wednesday night, city council members had a choice: Award $200,000 in state funds — earmarked to promote sickle cell awareness in the region — to Homestead Hospital or to the Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research. The foundation called itself a clinic on its website and on YouTube despite lacking a state license to run a clinic. The foundation wanted to open a second location in Homestead.

But that plan, brainstormed by Councilman Jimmie Williams before he lost his reelection bid this fall, fizzled. After a brief discussion, council members directed staff to begin the planning process with Homestead Hospital, and eliminate the foundation as an option.

“They are in place and would be able to help some of our citizens with another branch of their care,” Councilman Jon Burgess said of Baptist.

Newly elected councilwoman Jenifer Bailey, among the other council members. echoed Burgess. Bailey proposed that a local non-profit get a small cut of the state grant as well, about $1,000.

In an email Thursday, the city manager’s office alerted the foundation that it “will not be the recipient of the funds.”

Williams was the foundation’s staunch advocate — and a patient. After successfully requesting the funds from Tallahassee, Williams held a news conference in June to announce — prematurely, as it turned out — that the money would go to the foundation for opening a site to serve those in South Dade who suffer from the painful affliction.

According to the American Society of Hematology, sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, affecting about 70,000 to 100,000 in the United States, mostly African Americans. Florida has the highest number of sickle cell births, with the largest number of patients living in Miami-Dade County.

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 features an infusion suite similar to a dialysis center.

At issue is whether the Hollywood site qualifies as a “clinic” — making it subject to licensing and regulation.

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.

However, in a news release announcing the funding, Williams said the money would allow Bronté’s group to open a “clinic.”

In the “our services” portion of its website, the foundation refers to its existing Hollywood center as a clinic. (The language was changed after this story was published.)

And in a Facebook post, the foundation says its current center is “affectionately known as the ‘Sheridan Street clinic.’ ”

Shelisha Coleman, spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration, confirmed to the Herald that the center 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.

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 and touts its pain managing prowess, 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.

Sources told the Miami Herald that both the Department of Health and law enforcement officials are looking into the center’s activities. The DOH would neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

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.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan