News Health Systems

Is Ohio’s Department of Health Director Legally Qualified to Serve?

Nina Liss-Schultz

Critics of the Ohio governor say his appointment this month of Richard "Rick" Hodges to serve as the new director of the state's health department is politically motivated and potentially illegal.

Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich announced this month that Richard “Rick” Hodges will be the new director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), an appointment that Kasich critics say is politically motivated and potentially illegal.

Ohio law requires that the director of the state Department of Health be either a licensed physician with a degree in medicine or “an individual who has had significant experience in the public health profession.”

Hodges, who left his position as the executive director of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission—a body that oversees the maintenance of the toll highway—to take the job at the ODH, is not a licensed physician in the state. Whether or not he fits the second qualification is also unclear, making his appointment controversial.

When Kasich announced Hodges’ appointment, the left-leaning blog Plunderbund reported that Hodges’ LinkedIn page made no mention of his experience in public health.

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Shortly after the site noticed the omission, Hodges apparently edited his LinkedIn page to include qualifications and experience related to public health. A copy of Hodges’ resume, obtained by the right-wing blog Third Base Politics and widely reported to have come from the governor’s office, was then published as evidence of his health experience.

Hodges, an Oberlin graduate, has had a long career in the Ohio area. In 1987, he served as the youngest-ever treasurer of Fulton County, and was a state representative for six years starting in 1993.

More recently he has held high-level positions at the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, the Metropolitan Builders Association, and the Mechanical Contractors Association, among other positions.

According to his LinkedIn page, Hodges has some professional experience in the health-care sector: He served as the director of Coordinated Care from 1994 to 1998, during which he oversaw an association of self-insured corporations and health-care providers, and as the director of planning and marketing for the Fulton County Health Center for two years.

The ODH is responsible for setting and implementing statewide health policy, managing programs such as the public health outreach initiative Health Ohio and the federal welfare program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), keeping public health statistics, and responding to public health crises in the state, like the recent outbreak of measles.

As its director, Hodges will be the department’s face and its leader, setting priorities and directing staff toward carrying out the department’s mission to improve public health.

“Our objection to Hodges is based on the fact that he is not legally qualified for the job,” says Jaime Miracle, the policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, one of the many groups that have been critical of Kasich’s appointment. “It’s his signature on emergency orders on algae blooms crises. What happens if half of his medical team thinks there’s one way to go and half thinks it’s the other? It’s up to him, not up to his advisors.”

Miracle says that aside from the concern with whether Hodges is fit to direct the ODH and set the standards for health in Ohio in general, she is also worried about what Hodges’ appointment means for abortion providers.

“What we’ve seen over the last couple of years is definitely a more contentious relationship between the department of health and the subset of ambulatory surgical facilities that provide abortion care,” Miracle told Rewire. “We’re seeing the forced closure of these clinics for no reason, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that the licensing of abortion providers is a political operation.”

Kasich has long used the director of the ODH to target and close Ohio abortion providers, including an abortion provider in Cincinnati. The ODH regulates certain health-care facilities, and has the power to grant, as well as revoke, the operating licenses of surgical facilities, including many abortion providers.

Kasich in 2013 signed into law an anti-choice bill that requires surgical abortion facilities have written transfer agreements with local private hospitals. Failing to secure a transfer agreement, which has proven difficult in many cases, the clinic’s license to operate as a surgical facility will be revoked—in many cases an action that shuts down the clinic entirely. The ODH director is responsible for overseeing which clinics should have their licenses revoked, and signs his or her name on the paperwork to shut down the clinic.

At the start of 2013, Ohio had 14 abortion clinics. Now ten remain, three of which are currently in legal limbo.

Hodges, during his term in Congress, sponsored three anti-reproductive rights bills, including one requiring parental notification prior to abortion and another prohibiting the use of public funds for abortions for state employees.

According to Plunderbund, Hodges was the recipient of the “Friend of Life” award given by the United Conservatives of Ohio during his term in Congress. Rewire was unable to confirm that such an award was given to Hodges.

Though Hodges’ stance on abortion might be unclear at this point, Kasich’s is not. He is a staunch anti-choice advocate and has appointed abortion foes to powerful medical positions during his time as governor. Kasich in 2012 appointed Mike Gonidakis, who currently serves as the president of the Ohio Right to Life, to the Ohio State Medical Board.

Kasich also chose Dr. Mary Applegate to lead as interim medical director of the department.

In a statement, Gov. Kasich clarified the reasoning behind his appointments: “With his proven management ability, Rick is well prepared to lead the department to carry out its mission, and Dr. Applegate’s medical expertise will allow her to support Rick by focusing on medical issues and assisting him in recruiting an expert clinic team.”

In the past 30 years only two directors of the state agency have not been doctors, according to the Washington Times.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

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