Legislation protecting patients and increasing transparency at oversight boards will be sent to governor

For Immediate Release
March 20, 2014

Sen. Rick Jones: 517-410-9495               
Arika Sinnott, Sen. Schuitmaker’s Office: 517-373-0793                                              

LANSING, Mich.— The Michigan Senate Thursday gave final approval to a package of legislation that will better protect patients by increasing oversight and transparency at the state’s boards of health professions.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Sen. Rick Jones introduced the legislation last year in response to evidence that a former Board of Medicine chairman dismissed serious allegations against a Muskegon abortion provider, Dr. Robert Alexander, without investigation and without disclosing their prior relationship.

“The great majority of our health care providers are caring and committed professionals, but unfortunately there are some bad actors that abuse their patients’ trust,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “We will now have the tools in place to effectively hold those people accountable and make sure that they do not pose any more danger to the public.”

Sen. Rick Jones commented on an experience from his time as a sheriff.

“Years ago the victim of a rape in Macomb County came to me and asked for help. She had been drugged and raped by her dentist. She said that she knew I was a former sheriff and would fight for justice,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Her rapist had spent only one year in jail and was given his license back. Today we are sending a package of bills to the governor that will guarantee a licensed medical provider will lose their license forever if convicted of raping a patient. We also ensure that when a complaint is made on a medical professional that one person who is a friend cannot tear it up and hide it. When these bills are signed into law, Michigan will become a safer place to be a patient.”

Schuitmaker added that “Patients rely on the state’s oversight boards to ensure that their health care providers are practicing safely and responsibly. I hope this legislation can restore the public’s confidence in those boards.”

In 2009, allegations were brought against Dr. Robert Alexander by another doctor who treated one of Alexander’s patients. Dr. George Shade, then chairman of the board, singlehandedly dismissed the allegations without investigating. In 2012, Alexander's clinic in Muskegon was shut down for multiple health and safety violations. 

Further information showed that Alexander lost his license and served time in prison in the 1980s and 1990s. When Alexander applied to have his license reinstated, Shade served as Alexander’s mentor.

Senate Bill 575 requires a minimum of three board members to review every allegation brought to the boards. Currently, a board chairperson has the power to make decisions without consulting other members. It further prohibits the currently permissible practice of board members testifying as paid expert witnesses in malpractice suits over allegations that may later come before the board to investigate.

SB 576 requires board members to disclose any conflict of interest that might exist between them and the health care providers they are investigating.

SB 577 automatically revokes a health professional’s license if they are found guilty of criminal sexual conduct against a patient while acting in their capacity as a health professional.

SB 578 makes revisions to the law governing decisions of disciplinary subcommittees.


Senate committee hosts students to debate state fruit

For Immediate Release:
March 18, 2014

Contact: Derek Sova


LANSING, Mich.—Students from opposite sides of the state were invited to testify before the Senate Government Operations Committee on Tuesday about choosing an official state fruit. 

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, sponsored Senate Bill 515, which would make the blueberry the official state fruit. Senate Bill 259, introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, would designate the cherry.

“The blueberry industry is a major part of the Southwest Michigan economy,” said Schuitmaker.  “I hope that this hearing will highlight the hard work done by our local blueberry growers and their importance in the community.”

Students from Saint Basil Catholic School and Baseline Middle School in South Haven came to Lansing to testify in support of the blueberry. The South Haven area has the greatest concentration of blueberry farms in the state. The students were each given the chance to make statements to the committee members.

Warren invited students from Slauson Middle School and Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor to testify in support of the cherry. 

“This was a great lesson for the students about how the legislative process works,” Schuitmaker said. “As legislators, we often have to make difficult decisions between two competing good ideas. There are strong arguments for both the blueberry and the cherry, and I think everyone got to see that this is not an easy decision.”

Michigan is one of the largest producers of blueberries in the nation. Blueberries are grown on 21,000 acres spread across 600 farms, with an average yield around 100 million pounds of the sweet fruit annually. Many of those farms are located along the lakeshore in Southwest Michigan.

Michigan already has a designated state bird, mammal, fish, flower, gem and a number of other symbols. No state fruit is currently recognized.

Michigan is also a leading cherry producer, with production of tart cherries concentrated in the Traverse Bay region.


Editor’s note: For a print-quality version of this and other Schuitmaker photos, click the image or visit SenatorTonyaSchuitmaker.com and click the Photowire link.


Schuitmaker, Forlini bills let families, friends treat heroin overdose

For Immediate Release:
March 11, 2014

Contact: Derek Sova

LANSING, Mich.—Legislation introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and state Rep. Anthony Forlini would enable friends and families of recovering drug users to obtain and administer a life-saving drug during an accidental overdose.

Schuitmaker, R-Lawson, and Forlini, R-Harrison Township, said that the bills are necessary because drug addicts trying to kick an opioid habit who relapse and overdose are rarely able to administer life-saving drugs such as Nalaxone to themselves. Opioid drugs include heroin. State Rep. Hugh Crawford, R-Novi, sponsor of similar legislation.

Schuitmaker said the bills also require first-responder medical teams to have the opioid antagonists, drugs that counteract the effects of an overdose, on hand in the event of an overdose.

“Family, friends and emergency medical technicians are usually the first ones present in an overdose situation and they have the best chance of intervening,” Schuitmaker said. “Under this legislation, life-support vehicles must carry the drugs to offset overdoses, and the emergency technicians must be trained in the administration of the drugs.”

Forlini concurred, “This is common-sense legislation that allows a recovering addict’s responsible loved ones to help save that person’s life if they are experiencing an overdose because of a relapse,” Forlini said. “It is unrealistic to think that someone who is in the midst of an overdose would be able to recognize that fact and administer the drugs on their own.”

Currently, Nalaxone and other opioid antagonists can only be prescribed to the recovering drug addict. Under the Forlini and Schuitmaker bills, doctors may prescribe the antagonist drugs to family members or a friend of the individual who is in a position to help if an overdose occurs. Those administering the antagonist drugs and the pharmacist or prescriber of the drug would be shielded from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they were acting in good faith.

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have amended laws to allow increased access to blocking agents that can decrease the effects of an overdose. Fatal heroin overdoses increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, with 3,038 such deaths reported that year, and the numbers are believed to still be on the rise, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. According to recent news reports, emergency use of opioid antagonists resulted in more than 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001.

SBs 857-860 have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and HBs 5404-5407 have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.