STOREFRONT CLINICS: Some Say Weak Penalties Fuel Problem
Contrary to experts' contention that a complex mix of social factors contributes to California's unlicensed medical clinics and pharmacies, law enforcement officials "say black-market health care persists for a simple reason: The penalties are weak." This despite the fact that California enacted legislation in September increasing penalties to $10,000 in fines and a year in jail. The AP/Los Angeles Times reports that even though there have been numerous high-profile busts since a task force was convened to crack down on storefront clinics, with officers carrying out "plastic garbage bags filled with open syringes, birth control pills, penicillin" and other medical supplies, the perpetrators are often only fined, "the typical sentence for a misdemeanor." Martha Jimenez, executive director for Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said, "Too often in the desperation to do some type of police action, we lose sight of ... the root cause." She argued that a lack of insurance is central to the problem: "The uninsured are going to go onto the black market and continue to do what they are doing because people are that desperate" (Canto/Webb, 6/19).
Taking it to the Streets
The Orange County Register reports that the county Health Care Agency's Women, Infants and Children program is training its workers, and to talk to their neighbors about the dangers of unlicensed clinics and "steer parents toward safe, affordable health options." Joe Vargas, who heads the program, said, "When you talk to your clients, you have to engage them. Ask them questions. Make sure they can answer, that they really understand the dangers" (Weston, 6/20).