Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Doctor Fired After Standing Up to Private Equity
One dermatologist says she was fired after standing up to private equity interests that put profits ahead of patients, NBC News reported.
Allison Brown, MD, was allegedly removed from her Michigan practice owned by Pinnacle Dermatology, a private equity firm that runs 90 dermatology practices nationally, after voicing concerns to management about practices she said were designed to maximize revenue at the expense of patient care and provider wellness.
Those practices allegedly include “overlooked diagnoses, lost patient biopsies, questionable quality control in the company-owned lab, and overbooking of patients without sufficient support staff,” according to the report.
Brown shared an August 2020 memo from management as an example: “We are in the last few days of the month and are only 217 appointments away from meeting our budget,” it stated. “Don’t forget the August bonus incentive for all patients scheduled in August! That’s the easiest money you can make. Get that money!!”
Pinnacle, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, operates practices in 11 states. “We are proud of our track record, our high levels of patient satisfaction and the equally high patient loyalty that results,” Jose Rios, MD, Pinnacle’s president and chief medical officer, told NBC News.
Chicago Pacific Capital, a private equity firm founded in 2014, backs Pinnacle. The firm “invests in companies that it believes are positioned to lead innovations in healthcare delivery and in caring for aging populations,” according to a regulatory filing. Chicago Pacific had $1.8 billion under management, including borrowings, as of December 2020.
Private equity has increasingly had its eye on medicine, and MedPage Today previously reported on how this has impacted both patients and providers.
RFK Jr.’s Anti-Vax Machine
Capitalizing on his family name and experience, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has emerged as a prominent player in the COVID-19 vaccine disinformation movement during the pandemic, helping raise his profile and funds for his dubious anti-vaccine charity. That’s according to a detailed Associated Press investigation.
Kennedy, the son of former U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, has embraced disinformation on social media and other media campaigns through his organization, Children’s Health Defense. That group more than doubled its revenue in 2020, to $6.8 million, while its web traffic exploded from 150,000 monthly visits before the pandemic to a pandemic peak of 4.7 million.
Kennedy became a proponent of questioning vaccines more than a dozen years ago, but seemed to back off that stance just before the pandemic. He has embraced anti-COVID vaccine sentiments since then, going so far as to earn a ban from Instagram because of his aggressive disinformation campaigns. He maintains an active profile on Facebook and Twitter, however. Children’s Health Defense has an active profile on all three sites. The organization has grown recently, opening chapters internationally.
They have especially targeted groups more likely to mistrust government vaccine messaging, including mothers and Black Americans.
Kennedy is leading “a propaganda movement,” and “absolutely a racist operation” that is particularly dangerous to the Black community, said Richard Allen Williams, MD, a cardiologist as the University of California Los Angeles and founder of the Minority Health Institute. “He’s really the ringleader of the misinformation campaign. … So many people, even those in scientific circles, don’t realize what Kennedy is doing.”
Kennedy has also appeared at events pushing the notion that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. He has associated with people who have “celebrated or downplayed” the January 6 insurrection, and publicly attacked public health leader Anthony Fauci, MD, according to the report.
Kennedy’s spokeswoman said he was not available to talk to the AP.
Videos Falsely Link Athlete Deaths and COVID Shots
Disinformation campaigns are creating deceptive videos linking athlete deaths to COVID-19 vaccines, according to another Associated Press report.
In an attempt to further weaken public acceptance of vaccination, these purveyors have focused on young athletes because they are often deemed to be among the healthiest people.
Campaigns have posted and analyzed videos on popular social media and other sites suggesting the sudden deaths of young athletes were linked to the vaccines. One such video showed Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen collapsing during the European championships over the summer, but Eriksen was not even vaccinated. He was stricken by sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
“It’s designed to foster that feeling that the vaccines may be risky,” said Norbert Schwarz, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Southern California. “You’re doing that with material that seems real, because it is real. All of these events actually happened, they just have nothing to do with the vaccines.”
No evidence exists linking young athletes’ deaths to vaccination. Researchers argued to the newswire that these athletes likely suffered because of heart-related and other previously undiagnosed conditions.
“SCA has been the leading cause of sudden death in athletes during sports and exercise well before the pandemic ever began,” said Jonathan Drezner, MD, who directs the University of Washington’s Center for Sports Cardiology. “There is no evidence that the cases shown in [a] video were caused by a vaccine,” he said, citing one of the questionable videos.