Reinventing a business takes more than changing your name and moving locations. But, a felon in Wesley Chapel wants the public and authorities to believe that is what he has done in opening a so-called urgent care facility off State Road 56 after being ordered to shutter an unlicensed pain management clinic in Temple Terrace.
By changing the description of the clinic's operations, owner Jermaine Mathis is not required to abide by new state and county laws cracking down on cash-only pain management clinics at the heart of the prescription drug abuse epidemic.
Mathis, whose criminal record includes burglary, grand theft and losing his driver's license for being a habitual traffic offender, told Times staff writer Lisa Buie he is not operating "one of those little pill mills.'' But there is circumstantial evidence to contradict his assertion:
• The business accepts cash payments only, meaning patients with Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance aren't welcome. Coincidentally, patients with government and private insurance would trigger required use of the state's prescription drug database intended to curb doctor shopping and the accompanying prescription drug abuse.
• Neighboring businesses complained of automobiles with out-of-state license plates hauling in patients. That has been a standard operating procedure for drug traffickers previously taking advantage of Florida's lax prescription drug controls.
• The clinic employs highly visible security but is secretive about the three doctors Mathis says work there.
State law dictates that pain clinics be owned by a Florida-licensed physician or be licensed through the state agency regulating hospitals. Meanwhile Pasco County and other Tampa Bay area governments have adopted moratoriums on new pain clinics. By calling his business an urgent care clinic, Mathis is able to bypass both requirements.
By all appearances, Mathis is running a ridiculous shell game that continues a public health epidemic in which seven Floridians die each day from prescription drug overdoses. Cases like Mathis' Wesley Chapel Medical Group are expected to prompt legislative proposals closing the loopholes in Florida's new pain management clinics regulations.
"We're trying to stop felons from owning these facilities,'' said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the 2010 pill-mill bills in the Senate. "We'll have to get even harsher to maybe, just maybe, make it so no ex-felon can own any medical facility. We're going to have to do something to put him out of business and anyone else who has found the loophole.''
In the meantime, if Mathis is running a legitimate business, let him prove it to state health and local law enforcement officers. If not, shut him down.