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Repeated Violations Found At Addiction Treatment Facilities According To SpotlightPA, KHN Investigation

Toby Talbot
An investigation into Pennsylvania addiction treatment facilities found repeated violations of state rules and little oversight from the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

On today’s program: A recent investigation by SpotlightPA and Kaiser Health News found some drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities in the state repeatedly violated state rules and continued operating; Pittsburgh Mercy’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been complicated by a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and a part of the slowdown in COVID-19 vaccinations can be traced to hesitancy among Republican-leaning communities.

Addition centers in Pennsylvania found to have persistent problem, little recourse
(0:00 — 5:50)

Drug use jumped during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person suffering from a drug or alcohol use disorder might turn to a treatment facility. However, the quality of care in these facilities can vary due to a lack of oversight.

A new SpotlightPA and Kaiser Health News investigation found persistent problems in the management and regulation of these facilities.

SpotlightPA reporter Ed Mahon gives the example of a facility called Addiction Specialists, Inc. (ASI) in Fayette County, where one patient died within a day of arriving.

“This was a methadone clinic, it also had a residential treatment center, and they had a long history of state violations,” says Mahon. “The state said they didn’t provide adequate services or the services that were required that people needed, but despite these violations over the years, the state didn’t take strong disciplinary actions over the years against ASI.”

Mahon says often the state would cite facilities and require them to make plans of correction, but the enforcement seemed limited. Eventually, Mahon says a federal investigation would allege illegal drug distribution and Medicaid fraud took place at ASI.

One attorney told Mahon many rehab facilities are not properly run, and some are just in the industry to make money. However Jennifer Smith, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, says most facilities are trying to do good work and do not have persistent problems.

“Since the department’s creation in 2012, it has only revoked one facility’s license, and it has forced very few facilities to decrease the number of clients they serve,” says Mahon of the department’s enforcement tools.

The full investigation by Ed Mahon and Kaiser Health News reporter Aneri Pattani can be read here.

The challenges of vaccinating people experiencing homelessness
(5:53 — 12:51)

As the vaccination rate continues to increase, more attention is being paid to individuals who are more difficult to reach or face challenges getting to vaccination clinics. That includes those who are housing insecure, whether they reside in shelters, in cars or on the streets.

“It really requires us to go to them by and large, it’s much harder to get them to come to a large vaccination site, say at a stadium or at a convention center,” says Dr. Jack Todd Wahrenberger, chief medical officer with Pittsburgh Mercy. “The biggest challenge has been the types of vaccinations that we have available to us and they’re quite delicate.”

Wahrenberger says the pause in administering Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccines was one hurdle, because his team had been waiting for that vaccine to ramp up their efforts.

“It’s less expensive, you don’t have to keep it at an extremely cold temperature, the vials are even five doses instead of ten doses, … it’s just more durable, and you only have to give one shot whenever you give it,” says Wahrenberger.

He says in administering the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, they’ve only given second doses to about 50 to 60% of individuals experiencing homelessness, because it can be difficult to find them three or four weeks after the first dose.

The challenges of vaccinating Republican-leaning counties
(12:58 — 18:00)

As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, health care providers around Pennsylvania are seeing a decrease in people signing up to get their shots.

Vaccine hesitancy in Republican-leaning communities is part of the reason why.

WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports, elected leaders and public health experts are working to win over conservatives who say they don’t want to get the vaccine.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at
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