STAFFORD – Although a local doctor agreed to a settlement after he was charged with providing vaccines that had been stored improperly, a supervisor at the hospital has said that the children tested afterward were apparently given effective vaccines.
Dr. Michael Bleiman, of Southern Ocean Pediatrics and Family Medicine, is a private practice pediatrician whose office is located in the Southern Ocean Medical Center’s Medical Arts Pavilion. He had patients that were vaccinated as part of the Vaccines For Children Program, a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to families in financial need.
An investigation revealed that the vaccines were not stored at the correct temperature. This put them at risk that they would not be as effective as needed. Furthermore, the temperatures were recorded incorrectly.
According to the state Department of Health, Bleiman was required to record twice daily temperatures on hand-written temperature logs and to electronically report the temperatures once every two weeks. Doctors in the Vaccines For Children (VFC) Program must immediately stop using any vaccine that has been exposed to temperatures outside the recommended range and report any problems like this.
When the Vaccines For Children staff reviewed Bleiman’s hand-written temperature logs, they noted that the staff had recorded temperatures outside the recommended range. The out-of-range temperatures were not reported to the VFC Program, however. Only the in-range temperatures were reported.
Additionally, doctors in the VFC Program must also contact the vaccine manufacturers to determine if the vaccines could still be used if they were stored outside of approved temperatures. Bleiman and his staff failed to do so, according to the Department of Health.
The situation affected more than 900 Medicaid patients who potentially received compromised vaccines between the periods of November 2014 through October 2016, according to the state. The hospital reports different figures.
Despite parents reporting having to have their children revaccinated, officials said there has been no evidence, besides the temperatures, that the vaccines have been compromised.
SOMC partnered with the state Department of Health to offer testing and immunizations free of charge to all families who had a concern, said Dr. Theodore Zaleski, vice president of medical affairs and clinical effectiveness for the hospital.
“Analysis of Dr. Bleiman’s office records indicated that 204 children were possibly compromised. Of all the families who requested to be tested by our health care team, the results of the blood tests found no objective evidence to suggest that effectiveness of the vaccines used to treat these children was compromised. We were confident with the results of the testing and suspended the immunization program,” Zaleski said in a report.
It is unclear how many children were tested to check on the vaccines’ effectiveness, nor how the tests were given. Calls to Dr. Bleiman’s office were not returned.
He had been temporarily suspended from all Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs on Jan. 27. As part of this settlement, the temporary suspension of his participation in the Medicaid program will end.
Now that Bleiman has been reinstated into the Medicaid program, he is going through the process of being reappointed to the medical staff of SOMC, Zaleski added.
He has agreed to pay $156,220 and to revise his office practices as part of the settlement. Of the total settlement, $110,000 is a civil penalty levied by the Medicaid Fraud Division. The rest is a reimbursement of overpayments that were paid to Bleiman and his practice. Going forward, the temperatures and recording manner will be under further scrutiny.
Bleiman will be required to pay $100,000 on or before June 1, and the rest in consecutive monthly payments.
The Department of Health has set up a hotline for more information about this incident: 866-448-2432.