Friday, June 15, 2012

What Happened to My Office on June 16, 2011

    I tell this story with the knowledge that many people who read it will say, "She must have been doing something wrong," or "She must have been breaking the law."  These are people who believe with childlike naivete in a government which protects people and which like a good parent looking after children would not cause harm to its constituents.  Their refusal to suspend belief in a completely benevolent state is based on their own as yet neutral relationship to that state, the American Government, as well as the discomfort entailed in reconfiguring their appraisal of a system that has operated in the background of their lives like the enormous pulsating and smoking machinery of power plants.  We are aware only fleetingly of this ugly, sprawling apparatus when we exit large cities by the back route, and we turn away in disgust at being forced to witness what is required to support our communal, hedonistic lives.  It is only when the equipment fails in some way, spewing toxic residue into nice neighborhoods and threatening the lives of innocent people, that we open ourselves to the possibility that something may be terribly and unnecessarily wrong.  
     On the morning of June 6, 2011 I was at home preparing a boxed lunch for myself and my son, hurrying to get out the door to see patients at my Family Practice office when the phone rang.
     "Dr. C...maybe you shouldn't come to the office... maybe you should leave town!" said an employee from my medical clinic with an alarmist tone that I had not heard her use before, revealing to me that the scene set by government agents, who were taking the place by storm, had already created doubt in her mind about the decency and rectitude of my business.
     It was like a theatrical drama that overwhelms the emotions of the audience--people who become so caught up in the entrapments of costumes and persuasive acting that they lose all prior sense of reality.  My office employees were thrown into another scene, that of the American government exercising the authority it had acquired as a result of emergency legislation put into place to protect the American people in The War against Drugs and The War against Terrorism. 
     It is likely that none of us understood the implications for everyday citizens of this new legislation, passed without discussion or doubt when Americans were thrown into crisis mode immediately after 911.  Who wouldn't have agreed after the attacks on New York and Washington that we needed to batten down the hatches of this precious country and protect our star-spangled banner by allowing the national police force to seize and incarcerate terrorists who might, without being taken into immediate custody, recapitulate the trauma of that terrible day?  But the American government is opportunistic.  It took advantage of the atmosphere of fear, which after all paralyzes the thought processes of those affected, by sneaking into its legislation permission to attack and take into custody anyone at all, even upstanding citizens, if a case might be mounted that that person could be "a threat."
     It seems I was viewed as a threat to the American people on June 6, 2011.
     Thirty to fifty FBI agents dressed in full SWAT gear, guns flashing on their holsters, invaded my office that morning, scattering patients and staff, guarding all the exits, and forbidding anyone to move without their permission.  The FBI agents all seemed indubitably certain of their right to plunder the office and implicate that I, the owner and Family Physician of the establishment, had been covering up my criminal acts and was now going to face dire consequences.  My employees were confused and made to feel like participants in illegal undertakings;  perhaps they would be under arrest too if they didn't comply with the behests, legitimate or not, made by the uniformed agents.
     Patients were ordered out of the exam rooms despite illness, pain, and agitation, and were told to leave the office at once.  One patient reported that she was told by an FBI agent to find another doctor.  "Your doctor isn't going to be here any more!"  The employees, anxious about their job security, wanted to go home in order to deliberate and feel safe.  But the FBI agents told them they could not leave until they had submitted to questioning.  The employees were not apprised of their right to remain silent, and in that atmosphere of siege answered the agents' questions as compliantly as possible before leaving.  Some employees insisted on staying at least until I arrived so they could take direction from me.  The FBI agents implied that I had no authority at all, not now that they were in charge. 
     Instead of driving straight to my office I made a series of phone calls from home to find a criminal defense lawyer who could accompany me and advise me of my rights.  Otherwise feelings of panic and disarray, anger and revulsion, might have led me to say things that could have escalated the situation vis-a-vis the Government. It took an hour or two but Mark Thomas, a local defense lawyer, responded to my call without delay and stood by my side when I was confronted by the FBI agents.
     When I arrived at the office I saw that the SWAT team was barricading the parking lot and the front door, questioning everyone who approached and promulgating an aura of terror.  
     A van was being loaded up with all the patients' charts.  In fact, nearly every piece of paper in the office was removed to the van to be hauled off to FBI headquarters in Tallahassee three hours away. This included laboratory procedure manuals (required by CLIA, a regulatory agency, to be kept on-site), OSHA, HIPAA, AHCA and nursing manuals, personnel records, billing and coding documents, lab and x-ray reports, refrigerator temperature logs, urine and throat culture reports, documentation forms for well-child visits and immunization records, petty cash logs, receipt books, and items posted to bulletin boards for quick reference.  Also taken were, for example, step-by-step instructions for managing patients with acute chest pain or an anaphylactic response to a medication, phone numbers for calling the child abuse hotline, a review of criteria for administering intravenous medication for pneumonia or osteoporosis prevention, and the complicated formula for determining the degree of renal failure in a patient.  The FBI agents seemed not to discriminate but rather to assume everything in the office might be proof of my criminality.
     They confiscated ninety IUD's, dozens of vials of medications for IV's, our entire supply of Synvisc and Orthovisc (used for joint injection in severe arthritis), Reclast and Boniva infusions which had been special-ordered for individual patients, and all the records documenting patient medications, problems, allergies, and prior medical history.
     At around noon the FBI agents ordered out for pizza.  When I arrived they were standing around in my waiting room, pizza boxes strewn everywhere, conversing among themselves and chomping on their pepperoni slices.  They stared at me as I greeted them, accompanied by my lawyer, and made my way to my personal office.  But I was intercepted by two of them, Special Agent Robert Murphy and Special Agent Carrissa Bowling, who wished to usher me into a private room for questioning.  I was not permitted to move through my own office, not even accompanied by an agent, beyond where these two decided I could go. They supposed, I gathered, that I might want urgently to remove evidence of my criminal activity hidden--where?--in drawers or cupboards?  Under my desk?
     The events of that day lasted until evening.  We were not allowed to resume office hours until the next day.  The agents stayed long enough to copy onto their own equipment everything stored in our fourteen computers, a process that took many hours and deactivated two of the computers.  The local news media came and went, and their television and newspaper reports of the raid cast doubt on the viability of my medical practice, raised concern among my patients, and damaged my reputation in the small town of Gainesville, Florida.
     No explanation was given for the raid.  A Search and Seize Order signed by Judge Gary Jones and permitting the FBI agents to ransack the office was presented as the ticket for entry.  There was no information in this Order to explain what evidence was given to the judge to persuade him that such intrusive action was necessary to protect American citizens.  The affidavits supporting the raid were "sealed," meaning that I was not permitted to know what the FBI agents supposed was wrong or criminal about me or my medical practice for up to seven years.  The government, it seems, is not required either by law or a code of ethics to return any of the items its agents took, not even records vital for the care of patients. 
     I assumed that since the government saw fit to enact such a drama its agents would wish to alert me immediately about what acts of crime were being investigated--so that, at least, I could stop perpetrating such crimes.  However this has not been the case.  Despite costly efforts on my part, which have included filing a Motion for an Emergency Hearing in order to recuperate my patients' records and documents important for the continued operation of my medical practice, the government has been silent about the reasons for the raid, and patient records have not been returned, nor have the supplies, bookkeeping documents, employee personnel files or laboratory manuals been restored.
     It has been one year since the raid.  The government is silent.  Tomorrow is the anniversary.  I continue to see patients every day, conducting my medical business in all the same ways as prior to the raid, baffled, insecure.

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