For 11 years, Dr. Carol Roberts has dissected everything from homeopathic remedies to nutrition therapies on her twice-monthly alternative medicine show for Tampa community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5.
But the station on Monday placed Roberts' show on hiatus because of a controversy over how WMNF officials and listeners learned that eight patients in her Brandon holistic medical clinic tested positive for hepatitis C last year. The incident is now under investigation by the state Health Department.
"We had some concerns about … whether we were opening up our listeners to any potential problems," said Rob Lorei, director of news and public affairs for WMNF. "Clearly people can hear her show and then look her up in the phone book. … We want to make sure our listeners are safe."
Lorei said WMNF would review the Health Department's final report, expected soon, reinstating the show if there are no serious problems.
But at least one WMNF staffer remains upset Roberts didn't notify the station about the outbreak; Lorei received an anonymous letter on the issue in early March. And the controversy raises new concerns about how much volunteers' outside activities may affect WMNF's image and listeners.
When the St. Petersburg Times published a story on the outbreak March 20, Roberts was scheduled to appear on WMNF's Women's Show to talk about her new book. Instead, she explained away many of the story's negative connotations, leaving some to wonder if she used the radio station to counter the story.
"I felt it would be disingenuous if I didn't talk about it," said Roberts, who added that she offered to cancel her appearance. "(Not informing WMNF) is a public relations mistake. It doesn't reflect on the kind of medicine I practice or how we handled (the outbreak)."
According to the St. Petersburg Times story, Roberts' clinic, Wellness Works, contacted the local health department in July, when a couple of patients had hepatitis symptoms. The clinic eventually tested about 175 patients to discover the eight who had the disease, a contagious liver ailment that can last a lifetime.
The patients had been undergoing chelation, using IV medications to pull heavy metals and minerals out of the body, the story said.
In the Times story, Roberts said the patients likely got hepatitis when a nurse contaminated vials of saline. But a state health official said the outbreak was likely caused by the reuse of syringes; the nurse involved was fired in December, and the clinic implemented corrective actions recommended by the state, according to the story.
Because she is barred from soliciting patients on air, Roberts said she never thought to link her clinic and WMNF.
But Jimmy Lyons, a longtime volunteer who hosts the station's weekly jazz show, believes station officials should have moved quicker to remove her. "She had a moral obligation to level with her listeners," said Lyons, whose brother died of hepatitis C. "She should not be on the air."