Pediatrician Suspended From Medicaid, Then HospitalCharged With Ignoring Vaccine Refrigeration Rules
After his office was accused in January of improper vaccine storage and handling procedures, pediatrician Michael Bleiman of Southern Ocean Pediatrics and Family Medicine, located inside the Southern Ocean Medical Center complex in Manahawkin, has been suspended from the hospital’s pediatrics department – standard policy as a side-effect of having been temporarily suspended from participation in Medicaid, according to SOMC. Bleiman, at one time chief of pediatrics at the hospital, is still a private-practice physician on the SOMC medical staff.
Bleiman still stands to lose his medical license in addition to facing civil penalties and significant costs and restitution. A representative of his office said Bleiman was legally obligated to decline to comment.
The vaccines in question are part of a federally funded (through Medicaid), state-operated vaccine supply program for low-income and uninsured patients called Vaccines for Children, of which Southern Ocean Pediatrics is a trained and approved provider. No children have been harmed as a direct result of the alleged mishandling. However, more than 900 vaccines administered between 2014 and 2016 may have been ineffective because they weren’t properly refrigerated, meaning kids may need to get revaccinated.
The complaint, made by the state Attorney General’s Office, Division of Consumer Affairs, was filed on Monday, Jan. 9, with the state Board of Medical Examiners. Bleiman was found to be out of compliance with the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has been accused of dishonesty, fraud, deception, misrepresentation, false promise, false pretense, gross negligence, professional misconduct and other violations.
Southern Ocean Pediatrics and Family Medicine was suspended from the VFC program pending the outcomes of the investigations by the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners and the Medicaid Fraud Division.
As of Jan. 27, the Medicaid Fraud Division temporarily suspended Bleiman and his practice from the Medicaid program.
One loyal patient has described “Dr. Mike,” as he is widely known, as “a compassionate caregiver to infants and toddlers. He has been practicing longer than I have been alive. People make mistakes and learn from them.”
According to the attorney general’s complaint, numerous mistakes were made with regard to gaps, inconsistencies and anomalies in the record-keeping of storage unit temperatures; accounting for doses; viability assessment protocol; and apparent disregard for the requirements, even after being warned by a health department investigator.
Bleiman is in trouble for allegedly skipping certain steps in the process and continuing to administer vaccines that had gone out of the recommended temperature range.
A NJ Health Hotline, manned by educated health professionals, was set up to field general questions: 866-448-2432.
Hundreds of families and callers have reached out to the hospital and hotline in the last two months. More then 900 letters were mailed to patients potentially impacted.
The hospital is holding vaccination clinics for impacted families.
If parents have any uncertainty about if or how the situation pertains to their children, whether or not a letter was received, the health department recommends a follow-up discussion with a healthcare provider.
For a copy of a child’s vaccination records, complete the “Request for Copy of NJIIS Immunization Record” (Form IMM-46), available at njiis.nj.gov. Mail the completed form, along with a copy of a driver’s license (or other acceptable form of identification) to the New Jersey Vaccine Preventable Disease Program, P.O. Box 369, Trenton, N.J. 08625-0369, or fax to 609-826-4866.
In the ongoing investigation, the department has made referrals to, and is working with, the Division of Consumer Affairs and the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, both in the Attorney General’s Office; the Medicaid Fraud Division in the Office of the State Comptroller; and the Medicaid program in the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
— Victoria Ford