The last time Folio Weekly wrote about Jacksonville psychiatrist Dr. Mohamed Saleh (“Searching for Dr. Detox,” May 10), we noted he was both the city’s “most high-profile” and “most bizarre” shrink: a doctor who practices magic, sells custom-made men’s suits, battles with neighbors and hopes to make a fortune in spray-on tans.
By Susan Cooper Eastman
June 21-27, 2011
Jacksonville’s eccentric “Dr. Detox” has a run-in with regulators over abandoned medical records and equipment
Things have gotten more complicated for the doctor in recent weeks, including accusations by a disgruntled former employee that he improperly disposed of medical equipment and records.
Shortly after the Folio Weekly story appeared, Riverpoint Behavior Hospital fired Saleh as its executive director (he says officials there were upset with him “for telling the truth”). His already-ugly divorce has grown more contentious (he confided to police he’s hired a private detective to follow his wife). And more recently, the doctor has been accused of terrorizing a former employee, and dumping sensitive medical records and medical waste in the yard of a property he owns.
On June 3, Tamara Stevens called police to report that Saleh had threatened her boyfriend. A 30-year-old recent transplant from New York, with Jamaican origins, Stevens says she worked for Dr. Saleh as a nanny for four days in late May before he fired her, and that he allowed her and her boyfriend to stay at a house he owns on University Boulevard South. She says that after being fired, she returned to the house and discovered what she says were vials of blood and used syringes, along with hundreds of medical files in the backyard. If what she saw was in fact medical waste, it would be considered a biohazard and would have to be disposed of by a hazardous waste removal company. Medical records must be retained for a specific period, then shredded or burned. Violating patient privacy is a Civil Rights violation under HIPPA and punishable by $100 to $50,000 per violation and up to one year in prison.
Stevens called the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP investigator who responded to the call confirmed to Folio Weekly he had removed apparently hazardous materials. (An investigation is ongoing.)
According to Stevens, Dr. Saleh showed up later that day, and was violent, throwing a vase against a door and pouring a bottle of corn syrup over her clothing and other belongings.
Stevens called police at 7:50 p.m. and JSO Officer A.R. Boyd responded. According to the police report, Officer Boyd noted that Saleh “appeared to be on some type of ‘narcotics’ and was slurring his words.” He then reports, “Saleh then started yelling for [Stevens’ boyfriend Blake] Campbell to come outside. Saleh then repeatedly kicked the front door of the residence, while yelling, ‘Come out, motherf*cker, so I can f*ck you up.’ ” According to the police report, Saleh left in his yellow Hummer. Boyd gave Campbell a state attorney’s card for filing a restraining order against Saleh and then “suspended patrol efforts.”
Dr. Saleh disputes this version of events. He says the sheriff’s officer treated him like a criminal. He says he fired Stevens (whom he calls a maid) because she smoked in his house, and that he never intended for the couple to live in the University Boulevard South home. He says they broke in, and he went to the home on June 3 to demand they leave.
Saleh acknowledges having medical records on the property, but says they were kept in an office attached to the house, not the yard. He says he took possession of the files after Nirvana Wellness Solutions, a weight loss and pain management clinic that once rented space from Dr. Saleh at 3434 Lem Turner Road, abandoned the office. He believes Stevens and Campbell spread the stuff across the backyard to try to create problems for him, and he observes that the records weren’t weather-damaged as if they’d been sitting outside.
“They were mad, upset, so they broke into the garage and found a box of trash and took them out and spread them all over the yard,” says Saleh.
Stevens, who called Folio Weekly on June 4, says she left the records where she found them — in the backyard. By the time Folio Weekly arrived, DEP had already removed the medical equipment, but the medical records were still in the yard, stuffed into black garbage bags that had been torn open. The names of the patients, their medical conditions and the drugs prescribed to them were all clearly visible. Folio Weekly reviewed enough of them to determine they were 2002 records from Nirvana Wellness Solutions. The records include notes about a patient who “fell on her behind” and told her doctor she “broke her tailbone.” She was prescribed a pharmaceutical cabinet of controlled substances: Lorcet, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Lortab, Xanax, Toradol, Ultracet and Flexeril.
Saleh admits he should have contacted the Department of Health about the records, rather than holding onto them, but says he didn’t want to get W.E. Andre, the owner of Nirvana Wellness Solutions, in trouble for not properly disposing of them. After both DEP and the Department of Health inquired about the records, however, Saleh says he reported Andre.
“I called a Department of Health investigator and explained the situation to him and filed a formal complaint,” Saleh said last week. “What should we have done with these charts? We can’t burn them. They didn’t belong to me.”
Andre denies leaving the records behind, but offers an inconsistent story of what happened to them. Initially he told Folio Weekly he’d sold the company — including all the equipment and records — to another doctor who closed the Lem Turner site. Later in the conversation, he said he’d moved everything out of the Lem Turner office. Then he said they’d kept the weight-loss files but left the pain records with the other doctor. (Some of the records reviewed by Folio Weekly were of patients receiving both weight loss and pain medications.) The office manager of Andre’s new business, InfiniTrim, which has locations on Gate Parkway and San Pablo Road, told Folio Weekly that they’d held on to the patient records from Nirvana Wellness Solutions in order to contact former patients to try to sell them more services.
Green Cove Springs weight loss and pain management doctor Russell Sachs, who worked for Nirvana Solutions for a few months in 2002, said he was shocked that some of his patient files were left exposed in someone’s backyard. When asked about some of the drugs prescribed at the clinic, Dr. Sachs chastised Folio Weekly. “It’s not appropriate to be looking through patient records. That’s not the intent. That’s not really right. I don’t think it’s proper to report about medical records when the patients haven’t given a release.”
Stevens says she is filing a lawsuit against Saleh. “He thinks he can push me around because I’m just a little person,” she says.
Saleh, who says he liked the original Folio Weekly article and found it a mostly accurate portrayal (though he says it cost him $12,500 a month in earnings), fretted last week about receiving additional attention. Between being fired from Riverpoint Behavior Hospital, the problems with Stevens and the DEP investigation, he says, “I feel like I’m going through seven years of pestilence.”
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