Thursday, July 15, Detective Zachary Bailey was on routine patrol in the Southside area, when he observed a white, 2002 Chevrolet Impala turn north on Hwy. 167 with no signal.
Bailey conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle at the Southside Conoco. Upon checking the driver, Nathan Steele, 42, of Batesville, through the Arkansas Crime Independence County. One was for failure to appear on a misdemeanor and the other was a class B felony for possession of methamphetamine. Steele was placed into custody and upon a search of his person, a clear plastic baggie containing a green vegetable-like substance was located. Steele was transported to the Independence County Detention Center and the vehicle was towed by A and C Bell Towing.
Steel was served his felony warrant, and issued a citation for driving on a suspended driver’s license and possession of a schedule VI substance less than four ounces.
TEXARKANA — Free lottery tickets for those who get vaccinated had few takers. Free hunting and fishing licenses didn’t change many minds either. And this being red-state Arkansas, mandatory vaccinations are off the table.
So Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy – in many cases, hostility – in Arkansas, which has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is near the very bottom in dispensing shots.
He is meeting with residents like Harvey Woods, who was among five dozen people who gathered at a convention center ballroom in Texarkana on Thursday night. Most of the audience wasn’t masked, and neither was Hutchinson, who has been vaccinated.
Woods, 67, introduced himself to Hutchinson as “anti-vax” and said that he thinks there are too many questions about the effects of the vaccine and that he doesn’t believe the information from the federal government about them is reliable.
Hutchinson and his top health official tried to reassure Woods about the Food and Drug Administration’s review process. But Hutchinson had a question for Woods.
“Do you believe COVID is real?” the governor asked.
“I’m not afraid of it,” said Woods, who later said he contracted the virus last year.
Hutchinson embarked on the statewide tour as he took over as chairman of the National Governors Association. In that role, he has called combating vaccine resistance a priority.
Studies have shown the vaccines to be highly safe and effective. But misinformation continues to sow doubts about them, especially in conservative and rural areas. Hutchinson has urged the FDA to give full approval to the vaccines instead of emergency authorization, saying that would address one of the arguments used by opponents.
At the forums, Hutchinson tries to empathize with the vaccine skeptics’ anti-government, anti-media sentiment. His message: Listen to your own doctors and medical professionals, not conspiracy theories.
“Let me make sure it’s clear: I’m not asking you to trust government,” he told the Texarkana audience. “I’m asking you to look at, do your own research, talk to people that you trust, and that to me is the right approach.”
The approach is different from that of other Republicans who are portraying health leaders as adversaries even as they try to tamp down cases.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been selling shirts and other merchandise emblazoned “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson has suggested some health officials are trying to scare people into getting vaccinated. In Tennessee, the top vaccine official was fired amid GOP anger over her efforts to get teenagers vaccinated.
With the highly contagious delta variant rapidly driving up case counts around the country and filling hospital beds in places like Arkansas and neighboring Missouri, just 35 percent of Arkansas’ population is fully vaccinated. Only Mississippi and Alabama are lower, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 98 percent of the people hospitalized in Arkansas since January because of COVID-19 were unvaccinated.
Hutchinson has few tools left at his disposal after signing into law measures curbing his own authority to respond to the pandemic. They include bans on public schools and other government agencies mandating masks or requiring vaccinations.
A mostly unmasked audience of about 100 people gathered at one of his town halls in Batesville, a town of 11,000 approximately 90 minutes outside Little Rock.
Nathan Grant, a 66-year-old retired accountant from Batesville, said he didn’t know of anything Hutchinson could tell him that would change his mind. Grant has resisted getting the vaccine despite contracting COVID-19 last year. He said he didn’t trust any of the advice coming from Washington.
“They haven’t shot straight with us. The CDC hasn’t shot straight with us. Fauci hasn’t shot straight with us. They’ve changed their stories multiple times,” said Grant, next to whom sat a fellow vaccine skeptic in a baseball cap that read “Trump: No More Bulls—t.”
Some holdouts at the forums aren’t ruling the vaccine out. In Texarkana, one woman said she hadn’t gotten the shots over concerns about how they would interact with her allergies. Doctors in the audience encouraged her to talk with her physician.
The forums are also drawing vaccinated residents who are concerned about the state’s rising cases and exasperated at its lack of options to stem the surge.
Kameron Bethel, a Batesville mother of six, asked if there was a way she could obtain a waiver to get her 10-year old son vaccinated. She also asked the governor to reinstate the mask mandate he lifted in March.
“Yes, we are a great community, but I think if we don’t work together and get it together, it’s all going to fall apart,” she said.
The forum was enough to sway Teresa Cox and her daughter, who got vaccinated at a mobile clinic after the Texarkana town hall. Cox said she doesn’t trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top COVID-19 expert, but had confidence in the doctors who spoke at the event.
“What they said in there scared me,” Cox said. “I have been anti-vaccine all along, but I have also been on a ventilator three times, and I don’t want to be back on a ventilator. You don’t forget it.”
Saturday deputies from Independence County Sheriff’s office recovered 117 pills from inside a 29 year-old patient at White River Medical Center. The pill bottle was discovered inside the patient during a CT scan.
The bottle of pills was recovered by a nurse.
Inside of the bottle were three different types of pills: A tan capsule marked S487 20mg believed to be Vyvanse, a medication for ADHD; 66 blue oval pills marked GG258 believed to be Alprazolam 1mg, a medication for anxiety; and 51 yellow rectangle pills marked P039 believed to be Alprazolam 2mg, a medication for anxiety.
Deputies attempted to speak wit the patient but due to the patient’s medical state, were unable to gain a response. A witness statement was collected from a nurse.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced recent noteworthy arrests and convictions through the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) of the Arkansas Attorney Generals Office.
Medicaid fraud occurs when Medicaid providers use the program to obtain money for which they are not entitled. To report suspected fraud or abuse, contact the Arkansas Attorney Generals Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit Arkansas AG.gov.
In Independence County, Helen Balding, 50, of Farmington, was found guilty of one count of Obstructing Governmental Operations, a Class C misdemeanor. She was ordered to pay $100.00 in fines. Balding was the Director of Billing for Preferred Family Health. Balding was interviewed during the course of a Medicaid fraud investigation into fraudulent billing and initially gave false or misleading information. Balding agreed to cooperate and provided substantial assistance to investigators.
In Columbia County, William Paul Hunter, 53, of Magnolia, entered a negotiated plea of guilty to one count of Exploitation. He was placed on probation for five years and is required to pay $7,285.00 in restitution. Hunter was charged with Abuse or Neglect of an Endangered or Impaired Adult.
In Washington County, Brittany Skaggs, 35, of Fayetteville, was found guilty to one count of Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card, a Class A misdemeanor, and was fined $560.00, and ordered to pay $1,655.00 in restitution.
In Pulaski County, Ebony Denise Harris, 36, of Mabelvale, entered a plea of guilty to one count of Medicaid Fraud, a Class A misdemeanor. Harris paid $765.00 in restitution prior to entry of the plea and was ordered to pay court costs and the booking fee. This case was a referral from Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) after an investigation was requested on allegations that ARChoices Attendant Caregiver, Ebony Harris, allegedly falsified caregiving services provided from July 15, 2019, through July 18, 2019. During the time that Mrs. Harris claimed she provided services, the beneficiary was a patient at St. Vincents Hospital. The reported time was not billed to Medicaid since Absolute Care Management Corp. discovered the discrepancy prior to billing.
In Saline County, Derrick Trimble, 35, of Little Rock, entered a guilty plea to one count of Battery in the 3rd Degree, a Class A misdemeanor, and was sentenced to pay a fine of $225.00, plus court costs. The case was a referral from the Arkansas Department of Human Services after investigation was requested into allegations that Trimble, a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Arkansas Health Center, struck a resident.
In Pulaski County, Dr. David DeRuyter, 68, of Mountain Home, pleaded guilty to one count of Medicaid Fraud, a Class A misdemeanor. DeRuyter paid Medicaid restitution in the amount of $2,622.95 prior to entry of the plea, was ordered to pay court costs and the booking fee. From June 5, 2018, to December 12, 2019, Dr. DeRuyter billed Arkansas Medicaid for X-rays that were not taken or preserved according to Medicaid program rules. Dr. DeRuyter filed false claims with Medicaid in which he represented that he complied with program requirements.
In Prairie County, Courtney Young, 30, of Searcy, was arrested in April 2021 and charged with Battery in the 2nd Degree, a Class D felony, after it was reported that Young hit a resident in the mouth and whipped the victim with a fly swatter. Young is also alleged to have grabbed and shook a resident by the shoulders. Allegations were substantiated following investigation and the suspect was terminated from her position at the Des Arc Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
In Saline County, Kristy Dement, 29, of Bryant, was arrested in May 2021 and charged with Medicaid Fraud, a Class A felony. OMIG received a Medicaid Fraud referral after it was reported that there was an overlap in personal care services for a Medicaid beneficiary. Dement is alleged to have charged Medicaid for services despite another company, Superior Senior Care, having been authorized to begin services. Dement continued to bill Medicaid from April 28, 2020, through May 25, 2020, during the same time that Superior Senior Care was authorized and billed for services provided.
In Pulaski County, Georgetta Fulford, 55, of Eudora, was arrested and charged with Medicaid Fraud, a Class A misdemeanor. Fulford is alleged to have submitted falsified service records claiming to have provided home-care services for a beneficiary who was hospitalized.
In Pulaski County, Shannon Renee Herring, 28, of Conway, was arrested and charged with Medicaid Fraud, a Class C felony. This case was a referral from OMIG claiming Herring falsified test scores and records for payment while employed at Pediatrics Plus. Ms. Herring submitted documents to Arkansas Medicaid for payment of services not rendered on dates between December 4, 2019, and July 10, 2020, totaling around $2,500.00.