OCEAN COUNTY – The State Comptroller’s office temporarily suspended an Ocean County physician from Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs after accusations the doctor improperly stored vaccines for needy children through the Vaccines for Children program.
The temporary suspension affects Dr. Michael Bleiman’s office in Manahawkin, Southern Ocean Pediatrics and Family Medicine, located inside Southern Ocean Medical Center. The action, dated January 27 through the Medicaid Fraud Division, is effective immediately, and suspends him and his practice from “performing any services funded by Medicaid programs.”
“The MFD has the authority to suspend practitioners in order to protect the interests of the Medicaid program and its recipients,” State Comptroller Philip James Degnan said in a statement. “The alleged actions in this matter presented adequate evidence that quality of care issues existed and we took immediate, appropriate action to temporarily suspend this practitioner from the Medicaid program.”
However, the MFD said its suspension “only affects Dr. Bleiman’s participation in the Medicaid program. It does not prevent the doctor from practicing medicine generally. Additionally, Dr. Bleiman retains any and all rights afforded to him under state law with regard to the allegations against him.”
The action comes after a state Attorney General complaint, filed January 9 through the State Board of Medical Examiners, that alleges gross negligence, professional misconduct and other violations by Dr. Bleiman, in regard to the office’s temperature logs, use of quarantined vaccines and other record-keeping issues through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.
VFC is a federally funded, state operated program that provides 1.6 million free or low-cost vaccines to eligible low-income children at more than 1,000 medical offices around the state each year.
According to the complaint, Bleiman’s office received the training and approvals to take part in the program and administer vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A & B, rotavirus, DTaP/Tdap, Hib, pneumococcal, polio, meningococcal and HPV.
But by storing the vaccines outside the range of acceptable temperatures, the vaccines may have lost some of their potency. The complaint alleges those vaccines were administered through July 28 but were refrigerated improperly.
According to the complaint, a state compliance officer discovered the improper refrigeration in the July visit.
The officer ordered the existing 280 vaccines be quarantined so that the manufacturer could test their efficacy, and required Bleiman’s office to use an electronic data logger that tests the refrigerator’s temperature every 30 minutes.
New vaccines – 335 total – were received by the pediatric office to be administered through the VFC program.
The complaint alleges Bleiman’s office distributed the quarantined vaccines, did not verify with the manufacturer the vaccines’ viability, and continued to register improper refrigerator temperatures, which meant the newly received vaccines were possibly compromised, the complaint states.
The office also allegedly failed to keep records in compliance with VFC temperature-log standards, with “little to no variation in recorded temperatures for extended periods of time; handwritten out-of-range temperatures recorded that were not electronically reported to the VFC and no corrective action was undertaken,” according to the complaint documents.
In an October 24 visit, VFC program staff removed all remaining doses from the pediatric office, and retrieved the installed electronic data logger and handwritten copies of the temperature logs dating prior to January 1, 2016, the complaint states.
The VFC conducted its examination of Bleiman’s VFC vaccine inventory, and according to the complaint, found that the quarantined vaccines were unusable. Of the 280 vaccines that were quarantined, 11 were administered to children, and several others were missing. Several of the non-quarantined vaccines were also missing.
Since then, the pediatrics’ office was suspended from participating in the VFC program and has not been recertified to participate.
Also as a result, the state Department of Health recommended 900 of Bleiman’s patients seek medical advice on whether they needed to be revaccinated.