27 posts categorized "Science"


Texas medical professionals join the felon, fraud and drug addict club

Why not try methadoneYou can’t argue that Texas attracts medical professionals -- not that Melanie French Morrison, RN, had much of a choice.

Morrison, a nurse who used to work in Salina, Kan., had a drug addiction. She got a bus pass to Fort Worth from the Department of Justice following her convictions for tampering with a consumer product and adulterating drugs while caring for patients. She’s spending 36 months behind bars at Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth.

Morrison worked at a nursing facility, where she used her keys to open the narcotics cabinet, siphon off morphine from vials using a syringe and refill them with sodium chloride (AKA normal saline).

A federal court referred to her switcheroo as “reckless disregard,” since it can injure or kill someone. Sodium chloride can be dangerous, Which muppet has the shiv particularly to patients who suffer from congestive heart failure or kidney problems.

This month, Morrison was excluded from participating in federal health care programs. That means she won't be getting taxpayer money any more. Uh, except for housing, feeding and clothing her. 

-- Darren Barbee

As of September, here are the newest Texas members of the federal Exclusions Club:

BARBARA ALGAIER Nursing PARIS License revoked/suspended
ANNETTE BERNAL Nursing AMARILLO License revoked/suspended
KELLY BUNYARD Nursing HUMBLE License revoked/suspended
JAMIE FENTON Nursing LONGVIEW Health care felony, fraud
CARLA GAUSE Unknown ADDISON abuse/neglect conviction
BRENDA HARRIS Equipment HOUSTON Conviction
CYNTHIA MENCHACA Nursing CORPUS CHRISTI License revoked/suspended
MARY MERTINS Nursing HEREFORD License revoked/suspended
ELLA MOORER Nursing GEORGETOWN abuse/neglect conviction
RONALD POULIN Physician ANTHONY Conviction
MARY POWELL Nursing ENNIS License revoked/suspended
DEBRA SPRADLIN Audiology BRYAN Conviction
HOLLY STEVENSON Pharmacy tech MCKINNEY License revoked/suspended
SARAH WEISHEIT nursing KATY License revoked/suspended
SOURCE: LEIE Exclusions database


Slow mo: Delayed Texas technology projects took an extra 10 years to finish

WaitingTexas agencies can’t blame budget cuts for this snafu: Of 15 information projects analyzed by the State Auditor’s Office, 10 (67 percent) fell far behind, stalling important projects by a cumulative 9.7 years.

The agencies had the money to do the projects. They just didn’t get them done. The result: overruns cost you an extra $11.7 million.

The top sloth prize goes to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which Sloth developed an e-Business Information System to allow better accounting, fiscal control and elimination of deficiencies within their old financial system.

Oh, the irony! The project meant to keep better track of money was supposed to cost $1.6 million, but delays pumped the bill up 211 percent to $4.9 million. Supposed to finish in 2008, the project crawled to the finish line in October 2010, nearly 26 months late.

Old computersRunner-up was the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which set out to implement websites and web applications for people with disabilities. DADS may be “committed to providing equal access” to folks, but, hey, it didn’t say when. DADS $5.5 million project mushroomed to $7.7 million and took an additional 21 months to finish.

By the way, getting the job done early does makes a difference. The Department of Family and Protective Services created a database that was delivered about two months early. That saved $1.1 million.

The SAO reported that projects were delayed and costs went wild for several reasons, including forgetting to report state staff salaries and benefits in a major information resources project’s initial cost estimate and subsequent reports.   

See chart below for overruns.

-- Darren Barbee

Agency Original Budget Final Budget Overruns Additional months needed
Commission on Environmental Quality $550,800 $1,173,105 $622,305 4.27
Commission on Environmental Quality $1,107,839 $2,027,216 $919,377 8.42
Department of Aging and Disability Services $5,500,000 $7,698,000 $2,198,000 21.24
Department of Family and Protective Services $1,511,966 $1,244,633 ($267,333) 4.96
Department of Family and Protective Services $2,575,963 $1,468,120 ($1,107,843) -2.37
Department of Transportation $1,986,000 $2,109,505 $123,505 2.99
Department of Transportation $864,250 $920,463 $56,213 10
Health and Human Services Commission $2,636,001 $2,004,881 ($631,120) -11.28
Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts $7,747,019 $12,531,175 $4,784,156 0
Office of Court Administration $3,500,000 $4,126,053 $626,053 19.04
Texas Education Agency $3,852,000 $4,514,259 $662,259 0
Texas Education Agency $3,852,000 $3,647,796 ($204,204) 0
Parks and Wildlife Department $1,590,041 $4,945,547 $3,355,506 25.91
Texas Workforce Commission $2,281,828 $2,543,445 $261,617 6.05
Texas Workforce Commission $3,203,466 $3,499,474 $296,008 27.92
      $11,694,499 117.15



Childcare company fine with kids, not so much the pregnant employee, feds say

Good babyAn Oklahoma childcare company effectively told a pregnant woman to “get back in Pregnant thumbs down the kitchen,” but don’t fret, it was an employee, not a costumer, according to a federal complaint.

This week, Kids R Us, which owns child care facilities in Sooner country, agreed to pay
$75,000 to settle a pregnancy bias and retaliation suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The employee was an assistant facility director in 2010 when she informed an owner she was pregnant.

Later that month, the woman was demoted from her full-time position to part-time cook because, she
was told, she had “decided to get pregnant,” according to the suit. An attorney for Kids said her change to part-time status was at her request. The company denied all of the accusations.

Scullery(See typical modern woman, left)

After the woman filed a charge with the EEOC, Kids transferred her to a facility far enough away that it required to her to resign, the suit said. The company then fired her sister and cousin, who also worked at the company, without explanation.

“We hope this settlement will serve as an example to all employers that this agency takes seriously the right of people to complain about illegal job discrimination and that we will vigorously enforce the prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination,” said Barbara Seely, a regional attorney for EEOC.

This company has employed several women while they were pregnant, including some (pregnant) more than once," said Elaine R. Turner, an Oklahoma City attorney for the company.

Court documents say the settlement is not a judgment on the merits of the suit or an admission of liability by Kids R Us. The settlement was made to save litigation costs, Turner said.

"This was a financial decision, and that's all it was," she said.

Kids R US LLC is not related to the defunct clothing stores previously operated by Toys R Us.

-- Darren Barbee


Not a peep about pollution, Pilgrim's Pride told worker

Sure, Pilgrim's Pride fired a worker who tattled to Texas that the chicken processor was discharging excessive amounts of toxic chemicals into the water. But give Pilgrim's Pride points for candor. Telling the state about such unpleasantness is not in the company's best interest, the worker claims he was told when he was fired. The Mount Pleasant company will pay $50,000 to the worker, provided he doesn't want his job back, a federal regulatory agency reports.  

That got us curious about the company's record with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  

TCEQ took no action on complaints that chicken guts got dumped into a creek and picked up by children near the Titus County plant (the company said that when a sewer line overflowed, it immediately contained the waste and picked up the chicken parks); unbearable smells from the plant (the inspector who came later didn't notice any); and chemicals buried near a shed at a Lufkin facility (the company said it wasn't so and TCEQ took no action because it didn't know details such as exact location). 

Pilgrim's Pride contract chickenLate last year, TCEQ got a complaint from people who live near the Mount Pleasant plant that sewage and chicken odor was making them sick. The complainers later told the investigator that the odor comes up the creek at night from the company's wastewater treatment plant and was so intense that they could not go into their yard. But TCEQ noted, "The TCEQ is unable to conduct nighttime investigations. Therefore, no further evidence could be documented that could support the allegations made by the complainant."

Early this year, another complaint detailed problems at the Mount Pleasant plant. Among them, it said, the lack of backflow prevention on sewage discharge to a creek leads to catastrophic failure of pipe sections. The unnamed tattletale also told TCEQ that the company intentionally avoids sampling of the discharge at times when filters are overloaded with the effluent and at times of the day when effluent is expected to be bad. The TCEQ inspector didn't find much and reported there was no definitive evidence that Pilgrims employees were only sampling discharge when it was good. And the agency noted, "It is not an instance of noncompliance for the facility to unplug the ISCO sampler after every use because they are only required to sample three days a week." 

So, if you're not a dumb cluck, the lesson here is discharge at night; discharge on days you don't sample; deny, deny, deny.

However, the TCEQ website shows that in 2007, someone collecting bottles on a creek near the company's Nacogdoches plant noticed a white milky substance with a foul odor in the water. An inspection found seven violations related to unauthorized discharge of wastewater. In 2010, someone told TCEQ that Pilgrim's Pride was  discharging untreated waste into a nearby ditch and creek daily. A second complaint was made about the same time. The tally that time: 13 citations. 

No enforcement actions are listed as pending against the company. It has been fined over the years, though the amounts seem chickenfeed. In 2008, Pilgrims was fined $1,600 for a water quality violation; in 2009, the penalty was $34,960; last year, a $64,120 penalty was levied. - Lois Norder





Rx for drug company: Pay $3 billion, try not to hide drug dangers

GlaxoSmithKline’s bland but inoffensive slogan goes “do more, feel better, live longer.”  Pills money

It certainly seems to have worked that way for its executives and doctors, if not the public. The company made billions of dollars off of drugs for unapproved uses, greased doctor’s palms (with lavish trips) and hid data about the risks.

For you and me, a better slogan might be: “Lie to the public, fool the FDA and make doctors very, very happy.”

The pharmaceutical company will pay $3 billion to resolve government criminal and civil accusations that the company illegally promoted some of its drugs, failed to report safety data and engaged in false price reporting practices

To make all this slightly more digestible, here’s a handy limerick (you may use it at parties):

Twas a pharma company from the UK Bray away

Gained richly rubbing M.D.s the right way

Their meds could imperil your kid

But GlaxoSmithKline kept it under the lid

(A struggle no doubt, for every ass likes to hear himself bray.)

So how jerky was Glaxo? Federal regulators say it marketed an antidepressant for GSKchildren, even though its own clinical trials indicated the drug could increase their risk of suicide.

GlaxoSmithKline kept that study under wraps and gave doctors some, uh, “incentives” to drug up the kids, the federal government says.

The company wanted to market an antidepressant as a weight loss/sexual performance/quit smoking/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/etc drug, even though it wasn’t approved for such uses. Solution: Gently coax doctors to prescribe by putting them on advisory panels and shuffling them off to luxury resorts and European hunting trips. 

In another case, Glaxo failed to tell the FDA about safety data on whether a diabetes drug could increase Hawaii the risk of heart attacks or heart failure. Glaxo was accused of providing doctors with trips to Hawaii
and skiing vacations to market other drugs for unapproved uses. Of course, the snowy slopes do sometimes echo “this drug is completely safe” and waves lapping at your feet sing out “the efficacy of this drug can be greatly improved by another Mai Tai.”

-- Darren Barbee


Do cell phones emit harmful radiation?

You know that iPhone in your pocket? Of course, to avoid harmful radiation, you are following Apple's advice about how to carry your iPhone, right?

What? You didn't read the fine print that came with the phone? Well, let Watchdog Bytes help you. It's right there in small print in the iPhone 4S operating guide:

Here's a copy and paste from the guide:

Iphone guide

[The above is from Apple's iPhone 4S user guide. Did you miss it?]

[Image courtesy of techtipssalon.com.]

Whaaat? You've never seen that before? You mean you carry it in your pocket? Or strapped to your belt? Or in a metal case?

Hello Geiger counter!!

Don't worry. The Federal Communications Commission is coming to your rescue.

The FCC wants to revisit a question it hasn't looked at for 15 years: are U.S. government standards that set allowed radiation emission levels for cell phones acceptable?

Government scientists, so far, haven't found that phones can cause cancer or other problems in users. But the phones themselves have changed drastically in the last 15 years. About 44 million people in the U.S. had mobile phones in 1996. Now there are 332 million wireless devices in the U.S., Bloomberg News reports.

The government has said that people can use speaker phones or earpieces to increase the distance of a phone from a user's body, Bloomberg reports.

Then there's the matter of teenage phone users and those even younger. Could they be more affected with emissions than adults? That's the kind of question that the FCC will examine. And the results could affect millions of phone users.

Maybe there could be a campaign to go along with the growing don't-text-and-drive movement: Keep your phone an inch away from your body.


This report is from Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber. Read his full reports on Friday and Sunday at Star-Telegram.com.

Dave Lieber headshot



Texas babysitter on death row may get new trial

Cathy HendersonThe last time we checked in with Cathy Henderson, a Pflugerville woman convicted of killing the 4-month-old boy she was babysitting in 1994, she was three days shy of execution. Now she may get a new trial.

The Star-Telegram first detailed the evidence against her several years ago, as part of a series that looked at junk science and other flaws in medical examiner offices throughout Texas. Henderson claimed that she had dropped the baby, Brandon Baugh, about four feet on a concrete floor as she attempted to soothe him. She said he fell out of her arms but she had had no intention of hurting the child when he suffered fatal brain injuries. At the time, Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo ruled the boy's death a homicide and said the skull fractures were equivalent to dropping him from a two-story structure.

But in 2007, Bayardo recanted and said that new scientific evidence was indicating that infants' delicate skulls can suffern complex fractures when a baby is dropped a few feet. He further stated that he could not say whether baby Baugh's death was intentional, although the child's father, frustrated with the case, believes Henderson should be executed for killing his son.

Henderson's fate is now in in the hands of the state's highest criminal court and she may get a new trial based on Bayardo's latest disclosures as well as the findings of several other experts, including Dr. John Plunkett, a Minnesotta medical examiner who specializes in playground injuries. Plunkett's letter to a Texas judge offered up new evidence that the injuries suffered by the infant could have been caused from a fall similar to that described by Henderson.  - Yamil Berard


Do these handcuffs make me "look" guilty?

You are standing in the beam of police searchlights. People are staring at you. HandcuffsA set of cuffs are placed on your wrists. Then, you are thrown into a patrol car where a pair of bewildered eyes appear almost out of nowhere to stare at you. You are thinking ... what is this ... certainly just because I have these cuffs on and I am in a police patrol car... Am I guilty?

The heavy-handed rhetoric and emotion that crimes arouse are being tempered by heated warnings from experts in the psychology of the criminal justice system: Investigators, be careful in the methods you use for determining guilt. Eyewitness misidentification is a "leading cause" of DNA exoneration, those experts say, because of the "suggestive" nature of the process.

Police lineupSimilar to lineups, showups are conducted when a singular suspect is presented alone to a witness in request of a "yes" or "no" statement of recognition. To learn more about the pitfalls of flawed investigations based on human error and even well-intentioned criminal investigations, check out criminal justice psychology researcher Dan Simon's new book, "In Doubt," due out next month. The book provides a number of ways to improve the accuracy of trials and investigations. Texas law enforcement agencies have a Sept. 1 deadline to adopt policies to improve their eyewitness identification procedures.  - Yamil Berard


Texas VA director of veterans research program fleeced extra pay from feds, audit finds

SuzyGulliverThe director of a mental health program at the Waco VA Medical Center campus and some of her employees double-dipped on pay from the government and Texas A&M University, a recent audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general found.

Suzy Bird Gulliver was found to have misused official time when she took and approved absences for her subordinates to conduct grant work at A&M during their VA working hours. Gulliver and the employees received their VA salary as well as TAMU payments.

Gulliver is the director of the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans. The audit found she also “created the appearance of preferential treatment when she loaned $7,000 to a subordinate to cover monies not yet paid” by A&M. Veterans

She also “engaged in a conflict of interest when she recommended approval for Joint Employment Agreements between VA and TAMU,” the report said.

Gulliver, who remains director of the center, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Muddying the waters, the center did not maintain time and attendance records that accurately showed the time employees spent on VA versus A&M duties. “We could not determine if this was a violation of ...(the law regarding) Salary of Government officials and employees payable only by United States, because of inadequate record keeping,” the inspector general found.

Gulliver told investigators her absensces were aproved by the the chief medical officer. But the medical officer said he didn’t approve her absences and was unaware Gulliver was paid for her A&M work.

The heavily redacted report says Gulliver and an unnamed person signed documents that reflected Money money moneythat both VA and TAMU paid them a salary. However, the documents certified that “there is no dual compensation [sic] from these two sources for the same work.” 

Gulliver’s VA time and attendance records showed that between November 2007 and July 2010, she took 101 authorized absences from the VA and told investigators 32 of those days were associated with work at A&M, for which she received remuneration.

The audit recommended that the Office of Human Resources and the Office of General Counsel determine the appropriate administrative action to take against Gulliver and ensure that action is taken. 

The Center of Excellence program is designed to foster state-of-the-art, broad spectrum inquiry into the mental health diseases or disorders caused by combat exposure. The COE focuses on improving knowledge of prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment of veterans returning from Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn.

Central Texas has one of the highest concentrations of returning Veterans in the country, with a current total of more than 30,000 such veterans.


-- Darren Barbee



Shrinkage? Religious experiences may reduce size of brain part, study finds

12838_loresThis is your brain.



12838_loresCould this be your brain on religion?


While skeptics, hotheads and Internet flamers like to say religious people are narrow minded, a study by Duke University Medical Center researchers finds there may be a sliver of truth to that: certain religious experiences and beliefs actually shrink part of the brain.
To be clear, the brain bit in question, the hippocampus, shrinks in all humans as we age. That’s the part of the organ involved in learning and memory, and shrinkage of it has been linked to depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Duke found that that Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again had less atrophy — meaning shrinkitude — in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics, or those having no religious affiliation.
That may reflect potential stress associated with being a member of a religious minority. Of course, religious factors have been associated with positive mental health. But studies have shown members of religious minority groups may also experience stressors related to these group affiliations. 
People with a life-changing religious experience were also found to have atrophy in that slice of the brain, according to a study by Duke University Medical Center researchers.
The Duke study eyed relationships between religious factors and changes in the volume of the hippocampus over time in older adults. In standardized interviews, 268 men and women aged 58 to 84 were asked about their religious group, spiritual practices, and life-changing religious experiences.
A study from a few years ago also pointed out some interesting links with religion and brain change. University of Missouri scientists found religious experience is associated with decreased activity in the brain’s right parietal lobe – the part of the brain associated with orienting yourself in the space around you.People with injuries to the right parietal lobe report increased levels of spiritual experiences, Scientific American reported. 

The researchers said stress may be one explanation for the problem.

The full Duke study can be found here.

-- Darren Barbee