who treats poor had license pulled in other state
February 4, 2001
-- Annelle Blanchard was a wealthy New Orleans doctor who once rubbed elbows
with the Big Easy's social elite.
On Jan. 22, she was found badly burned in
a mysterious fire in a $350-a-month apartment in Fort Pierce. Since then, state
medical authorities acknowledge a troubling truth:
Blanchard had been treating the poor of
Fort Pierce despite having her medical license suspended in Louisiana, and the
Florida Department of Health charges she also had a drug problem.
"How can we put our vulnerable
population -- our children -- in the hands of a woman like this?" asked
Sylvie Kramer, executive director of St. Lucie County Healthy Start. "How
can you get a medical license in one state, when it has been suspended in
The answer to that question begins in New
Blanchard, 50, a Louisiana State
University graduate, had risen through the ranks of the medical world. Her
patients included a former New Orleans city councilwoman and famed novelist Anne
A self-proclaimed high-risk pregnancy
obstetrician, Blanchard began running into legal trouble in 1994. That year, the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists investigated her medical
The review determined Blanchard was
performing too many unnecessary and expensive procedures. The procedures, which
Blanchard said were necessary to avoid premature birth, often cost more than
Blanchard also was criticized for
funneling patients who needed special treatment to a health care company of
which she was part owner.
Several hospitals suspended her
privileges, and in 1998, the Louisiana State Board of Medicine suspended
Blanchard's license to practice in the state, according to legal documents.
Tallahassee attorney Jeff G. Peters, who
represents Blanchard, says it was politics -- not performance -- that led to her
legal problems in Louisiana.
"I don't think her skills as a
doctor have ever been called into question," Peters said. "She has an
outstanding reputation and there are many who have given testimonials on her
Peters said Blanchard was outspoken on
women's rights issues and that irked Louisiana's medical authorities.
"We believe the New Orleans actions
taken against her were completely off-base," Peters said. "That state
has a long history of charges being trumped up."
Following a flurry of lawsuits, Blanchard
moved to Florida, where she has held a medical license since 1993. The license
is valid through 2002. Her primary business is listed as being in Miami, but
state health officials have no way to determine whether she was actually
According to Florida Department of Health
officials, it was Blanchard's responsibility to inform the Florida Board of
Medicine within 30 days of her suspension in Louisiana, but those officials said
she kept her suspension secret.
Peters said the information was available
in a national database and that Blanchard was not trying to hide anything.
Blanchard started working as an
obstetrician for Trinity Medical Center, 1803 S. 25th St., Fort Pierce, in May
2000, although her Florida Health Department Practitioner Profile indicated that
"I do not practice medicine in Florida."
Kramer, the Healthy Start executive
director, brought Trinity, a Deerfield Beach-based company, to St. Lucie County.
Trinity received state Health Department
funds through Heal- ?thy Start to help cover medical services provided to the
poor and those on Medicaid. Kramer said she never met Blanchard, but she did
find out about her past.
"What I was hearing about Dr.
Blanchard was troubling to me," Kramer said. "There were many reports
that her actions were inappropriate."
A month after Blanchard joined Trinity,
Kramer ended Healthy Start's financial agreement with the clinic, which the
previous year had received $68,000 from Healthy Start for medical services to
During her tenure at Trinity, Blanchard
also was given temporary privileges called locum tenens to work at
Lawnwood Regional Medical Center.
Hospital spokeswoman Beth Tuttle said
Blanchard worked at Lawnwood for three weeks from May 31 to June 22, 2000.
"I would assume she saw patients
during that time," Tuttle said. "There is a process in place where
information about her suspensions would come to light."
Tuttle said a doctor would have to prove
that he or she had a Florida medical license and had been on staff at another
hospital to receive privileges at Lawnwood. A lengthy credentialing process,
including interviews with several hospital staff, must be completed for
permanent privileges to be granted.
When asked whether a doctor with a
suspended license from another state would be allowed to work at Lawnwood,
Tuttle said each application would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Trinity office manager Vicki Perdiue said
Blanchard "is in the process of being credentialed at Lawnwood." When
asked whether Trinity was aware of Blanchard's prior suspensions, Perdiue
said the corporate office had no comment.
On June 19, the Health Department filed an
administrative complaint against Blanchard after her prior suspensions were
uncovered. In the complaint, the Health Department said Blanchard was suspended
because she had a drug problem.
"(Blanchard) has for an extended
period suffered from and currently suffers from continuing and recurring
excessive use and abuse of controlled substances, which renders her unable to
practice medicine with responsible skill and safety to patients," the
"When you get in trouble in another
state, it has to be reported to other states," said April Crowley, Health
Department spokeswoman. "The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration
then investigates and tells the Board of Medicine if they see an immediate
threat. If there is, the doctor can be suspended."
Blanchard filed a consent agreement with
the Agency For Health Care Administration on Nov. 1. It was her first response
to the allegations brought in the original complaint.
In the consent agreement, Blanchard
suggested several punishments for her actions, including a $1,000 fine,
reimbursement of costs incurred by the Health Department for its investigation,
and entrance into the Physicians Recovery Network. Blanchard did not suggest
having her license suspended.
"It is a long litigation process and
this is just the start," Crowley said. "The Board of Medicine can say
ënoí to the consent agreement. The board has the final say." That
decision is on hold indefinitely as Blanchard recovers from severe injuries
suffered in a January fire in her one-room apartment, at North Second Street and
Seaway Drive, where she was paying $350 a month rent. The cause of the fire is
still under investigation.
Blanchard currently is listed in critical
condition at the Tampa General Hospital burn unit, suffering from second- and
third-degree burns over 75 percent of her body, fire district officials said.
An investigation of the fire by Nationwide
Insurance, the company that insured the apartment building, determined several
bottles of narcotics were found in Blanchardís unit after the fire.
Christine Johns, who owns the two-story
apartment that burned, said Blanchard moved in on Jan. 1.
"She wanted to save some money,"
Johns said. "She had been living in a condominium on the beach."
Blanchard had lived in a luxury condo.
Realtor Steve Patterson said Blanchard rented villa 723 in Ocean Village, 2400
S. Ocean Blvd, for $1,000 a month from May to December.
"She was a little different,"
Patterson said. "There was some erratic behavior."