Press Club
A gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

An Arlington doctor’s office was the hub of a “decade-long oxycodone distribution network,” federal prosecutors say.

A Front Royal woman who authorities say was the “ringleader” of the scheme, which prescribed tens of thousands of pills between 2012 and 2022, pleaded guilty Monday. Candie Marie Calix, 40, could face up to 20 years in prison at her scheduled sentencing on September 28.

Two co-conspirators in the opioid prescription ring, both from Front Royal, previously pleaded guilty and are also set to be sentenced in September.

The Arlington physician for whom Calix “nominally worked as an office manager” was not named and it’s unclear whether they will face charges or other disciplinary action. The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Arlington County Police Department reported 92 opioid overdoses in 2021, including 28 that resulted in death.

More from a U.S. Dept. of Justice press release, below.

A Front Royal woman pleaded guilty today to being the ringleader of a decade-long oxycodone distribution network, sourcing high-dosage oxycodone pills from a doctor in Arlington.

According to court documents, Candie Marie Calix, 40, nominally worked as an office manager for a physician in Arlington, referred to in court records as Doctor-1. Between 2012 and 2022, Doctor-1 prescribed Calix nearly 40,000 oxycodone 30-mg pills and more than 9,000 oxycodone 15-mg pills. Doctor-1 also prescribed similar quantities of oxycodone 30-mg and 15-mg pills to Calix’s relatives, including her mother, grandparents, great-grandmother, brother, and husband. These quantities were far in excess of therapeutic doses, and Calix personally distributed or directed others to distribute most of the pills that Doctor-1 prescribed to Calix and her family members.

Calix functioned as the gatekeeper to Doctor-1; she recruited individuals she knew from around Front Royal to be “patients” of Doctor-1 and obtain large quantities of oxycodone. These “patients,” in turn, typically kicked back the oxycodone 30-mg pills they were prescribed to Calix to redistribute, and kept the oxycodone 15-mg pills for their own use. Calix recruited at least 12 individuals to be “patients” of Doctor-1.

Calix and her co-conspirators used coded language to refer to the pills they distributed, for example, referring to oxycodone 30-mg pills as “tickets,” “blueberries,” or “muffins.” The co-conspirators typically sold oxycodone 30-mg pills at a cost of $25 per pill, and over the course of the conspiracy, generated at least $5,000 per month in profits.

Two of Calix’s co-conspirators, Kendall Sovereign, 56, and Jessica Talbott, 35, both of Front Royal, also pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. Sovereign and Talbott are both scheduled to be sentenced on September 21.

Calix is scheduled to be sentenced on September 28. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh is prosecuting the case.

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Morning Notes

A kite stuck up a tree in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Another Malfunctioning Walk Signal — Just over a week after this, another reported crosswalk signal issue: “Instead of telling you when it’s safe to cross the street, the walk signs in Crystal City, VA are just repeating ‘CHANGE PASSWORD’. Something’s gone terribly wrong here.” [Twitter]

School Board Meeting Was Mostly Maskless — “For those playing the ‘how many Arlington School Board members will go mask-free at the first board meeting after requirements were lifted?’ home game, the winners were those who had put their money on four out of five. Board members David Priddy, Cristina Diaz-Torres, Reid Goldstein and chairman Barbara Kanninen were maskless at the March 10 meeting, as was Superintendent Francisco Durán. School Board member Mary Kadera kept her mask affixed.” [Sun Gazette]

Survey Work on GW Parkway — ” A $161 million ‘complete rehabilitation‘ of the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway is being planned… Through Friday, March 18, there will be single-lane closures along the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway for bridge surveys. Drivers should proceed with caution in these areas and consider using alternate routes, according to an NPS alert.” [WUSA 9]

Arlington Doc Helping Refugees — “An Arlington doctor is not only battling the pandemic in Northern Virginia, but he also travels across international borders to help those in need. The current refugee crisis that began with Afghans in 2021, now includes Ukrainians facing a similar fate of displacement and an uncertain future. For three years before COVID-19 spread across the globe, Dr. Ali Karim helped build wells in Nigeria, aided orphans and women in Kabul, Afghanistan and filmed a documentary about his solo journey.” [WJLA]

Days Inn Redevelopment Update — “The plans to replace the Days Inn at 2201 Arlington Boulevard with 262 multi-family units and around 3,000 square feet of retail were filed with Arlington County last week. The eight-story project will also have surface and underground parking. STUDIOS Architecture designed the building.” [Urban Turf]

Social Sports Return to Crystal City — “Sand Volleyball is BACK in National Landing starting this May with a few fun new additions – Bocce and Corn Hole!” [Twitter]

Yes, It’s Getting Windier — “Our analysis of wind data shows that the strongest gusts have become more frequent recently. Last year featured more big wind gusts than any recent year, a trend that has continued into this year. Wind advisories, issued by the National Weather Service when gusts are expected to top 45 mph, have also been on the increase since the mid-2000s.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 40. Sunrise at 7:21 am and sunset at 7:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) After 80 years operating near Arlington Ridge, Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic is moving into a new office in Shirlington.

The clinic signed a lease for a new, 25,000-square foot space at 2800 Shirlington Road, an office building just over a mile as the crow flies from its current location at 2445 Army Navy Drive.

Interior construction is scheduled to start this month and Anderson Clinic aims to debut its new space in October.

Leaders say the new space will allow the practice to add more doctors and providers, provide physical therapy services and establish an orthopedic urgent care clinic. It will serve more than 35,000 patients a year — more than the clinic’s three other locations in Fairfax, Lorton and Mount Vernon Hospital saw combined in 2021.

“This is a huge decision to move,” said Dr. C. “Andy” Anderson Engh, Jr., adding that it’s been in the works for a year and a half. “This is space that is considerably larger than what we have and will allow us to grow and improve our services… We can really build it out exactly as we want so that it can be a pleasant, open space for our patients, and efficient for staff working there.”

He also wants the office to be more accessible to Arlington and Alexandria patients, whose 20-minute commutes often take double that time due to congestion.

“We want to add additional offices to make our doctors more accessible in this region,” he said.

Polio specialist Dr. Otto Anderson Engh purchased the property on which the current clinic stands and founded the practice in 1938. He passed on stewardship of the practice and ownership of the land to his two sons, Drs. Gerard “Jerry” and Charles Anderson Engh, whose son is Andy.

The Enghs have made important contributions to orthopedic care in Arlington and nationally, Andy says. His grandfather Otto conducted tendon transfers for children crippled by polio and developed programs for these children through Arlington County and hospitals in the region. After a vaccine was developed that effectively eliminated polio, the clinic began caring for a surge of workers who were injured while building up Arlington and D.C.

In the 1970s, under Jerry and Charles’ leadership, the practice evolved into a group of specialists, whose specialties ranged from sports medicine to joint replacements.

“My uncle was instrumental early on in sports medicine in getting athletic trainers in the high schools in the early 70s,” Andy said. “He then moved on to be a pioneer in knee replacements, while my father was a pioneer in hip replacements. He was one of two in the area with a license to do cement hip replacements, and he developed the cement-less replacements that now comprise 93% of the replacements in the U.S.”

That growth will continue in the new office space. The third-generation doctor credits the expansion to a partnership with M2 Orthopedics, which handles the administrative side of business so that the physicians can focus on serving patients.

Andy said his father and uncle still own the property on which the current clinic, built in the 1980s, stands.

For now, they don’t have plans to redevelop the office building, which currently houses, among other medical services, a physical therapy group and a dialysis clinic.

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Virginia Hospital Center’s new doctor’s office location near Columbia Pike (courtesy photo)

Virginia Hospital Center has opened a new doctors’ office in south Arlington near Columbia Pike.

Located at 950 S. George Mason Drive, the new location offers primary, family, and OB/GYN care. It’s located in Centro, a recently-built apartment development that also includes a Harris Teeter, a veterinarian’s office, and all-in-one optometry and dental practice.

The office opened earlier this month.

“Virginia Hospital Center is committed to making quality healthcare accessible to everyone in our community,” writes Adrian Stanton, Vice President of Business Development & Community Relations at Virginia Hospital Center. “Opening the new VHC Physician Group office in South Arlington provides convenient access to personalized care, allowing patients who may have previously faced barriers due to distance or lack of transportation to receive treatment in their own neighborhood.”

The Columbia Pike corridor, long-considered one of the more affordable areas to live in the county, is generally underserved in terms of medical care. The new location is the only Virginia Hospital Center primary or OB/GYN care office in the 22204 zip code.

Improving maternal care has also become a focus point nationally as well as in Virginia. The US ranks last among industrialized countries in maternal mortality rate.

“Because of the intimate nature of OB/GYN care, building a close relationship with your provider is especially important,” writes Stanton. “OB patients, in particular, may have to make frequent visits to their physician’s office. Bringing a new office to South Arlington allows patients in the area improved flexibility for scheduling appointments, making it easier than ever for them to receive top-quality care.”

Additionally, having multiple types of care, particularly family-related care, in one location greatly improves convenience.

“Providing a variety of services in one location allows for incredible continuity of care, which has tremendous health benefits for the patient,” writes Stanton. “Additionally, providing primary, family, and OB/GYN services in a centralized location allows families the flexibility to schedule multiple appointments in one day — greatly reducing the barriers that can sometimes prevent patients from seeking critical medical care.”

The location currently offers in-person as well as telehealth appointments.

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For Dr. Andrew Wu, summertime normally means he’ll see more kids with sunburns, insect bites, poison ivy, stomach viruses and dehydration — all related to being outside.

But this summer, the pediatrician affiliated with Virginia Hospital Center said he and his colleagues are seeing an uncharacteristic number of respiratory viral illnesses unrelated to COVID-19. Specifically, doctors are seeing “a sharp uptick” in the number of cases of the common cold, croup and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, he said.

The trend is playing out elsewhere, particularly in the South and Southwest, as COVID-19 cases recede, the Washington Post recently reported. In Arlington, where nearly 61% of adults are fully vaccinated, the seven-day average of net coronavirus cases is zero, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory alerting clinicians and caregivers and encouraging broader testing for RSV, which causes cold-like symptoms but can lead to bronchial infections and pneumonia in children younger than one.

These illnesses typically peak in the fall and winter when children return inside and to school, Wu said. Last year and into this spring, however, many pediatricians saw few cases of the flu, RSV and the common cold. While this summer surge is likely a side effect of the pandemic, he says families ought not to worry — provided their kids are vaccinated against the more serious, and potentially lethal, bacterial and viral illnesses.

“Fitting the trend this past year and a half, during which nothing has been typical, respiratory virus season seems to have come out of hibernation about six months late,” he said. “I suspect that the current out-of-season increase stems largely from two factors: Many virus-naive children coming out of isolation and rejoining the larger world in daycares and preschools, and the general loosening of social restrictions by public health officials.”

So, what should parents do to protect their children?

Wu, a parent himself, said he empathizes with parents who are worried about sending their children back to preschool and daycare, knowing that their child will likely develop a few respiratory illnesses in the first couple of months.

But he encouraged parents to send their kids to daycare or preschool anyway — and not just for the benefits of quickening development, increasing socialization and improving emotional skills.

“I tend to think of introduction to childcare the same way we approach food allergies. Namely, early introduction is better than late introduction, but not too early,” he said. “While no one wishes illness on a child, these illnesses tend to be minor and provide opportunity for a child’s immune system to do what it was designed to do: fight infection.”

Extending the analogy, Wu said the longer that parents voluntarily withhold potentially allergenic foods from their young children, such as peanuts, the more likely the child is to develop an allergy to that particular food.

“A child’s immune system could become dysregulated if not provided enough opportunities to fight infection, and could respond by developing moderate to severe allergies or autoimmune conditions,” he said.

Arlington County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said “it’s not surprising” to see a rise in the common cold, with masks coming off and gatherings and travel increasing the spread of germs.

She also advised making sure kids and adults are up to date on recommended vaccines, and taking other basic preventative measures.

“We encourage Arlington residents to practice healthy habits that prevent the spread of all diseases — such as washing your hands often, staying away from others when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes,” she said.

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Crowding on sidewalks, which has occurred outside Arlington bars on recent weekends, has significant potential to spread the coronavirus, according to local infectious disease experts.

Confirming fears held by county officials and residents, infectious disease specialists at Virginia Hospital Center and George Mason University said the lack of physical distancing in these crowds, varying levels of mask wearing and the social environment makes the risk of coronavirus spread high.

Sidewalk crowds have become an increasing common sight during Arlington’s weekend nightlife, due to capacity restrictions inside venues. Long lines have formed outside spots like The Lot and Whitlow’s in Clarendon, leading some to fret about the implications on social media.

According to Dr. Kathryn Jacobsen, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, pedestrians out for a stroll are not likely to contract the disease, but those standing in a crowd shirking the ordinance are in greater danger.

“There is little risk of infection if two people briefly cross paths walking in opposite directions on a sidewalk, but there is a high risk of the infection spreading if dozens or hundreds of people crowd together at a bar or club for several hours and one patron has coronavirus infection,” Jacobsen said. “That’s how we get superspreader events.”

Photos of the lines and crowds also show only a limited number of people wearing masks. While an exposed face allows for infectious droplets to travel unimpeded, Dr. Amira Roess, also a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, said prolonged time spent not physically distant is unsafe even with masks.

“Standing in line with masks on less than six feet apart from individuals outside of your family or closed social circle for more than 15 minutes is considered an exposure and these types of exposures should be avoided,” Roess said.

The experts all said being outside is safer than indoors, but there are still risks that customers at restaurants and bars with outdoor seating often underestimate.

Dr. Jennifer Primeggia, a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America and specialist in the Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group, said virus particles can still travel within compact outside seating.

“Generally, being outdoors is safer than being indoors because there is more clean air for the droplets to disperse,” Primeggia said. “There is still a risk of exposure to infectious particles when social distancing is not practiced. Additionally, multiple studies have shown that factors such as wind can disperse particles further than six feet.”

With local coronavirus cases on the rise, the Arlington County Board approved an emergency ordinance two weeks ago “prohibiting groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions, and requiring pedestrians to maintain at least six feet of physical separation from others on the posted streets and sidewalks.”

The ordinance has gotten pushback, even among those who believe such crowding poses a health danger.

The law “seems well-intentioned but flawed,” Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt wrote last week, adding that it “appears to criminalize common behaviors.” The Arlington Chamber of Commerce also penned a letter opposing it, saying that the ordinance was “constructed hastily, leading to confusion and missed opportunities to develop a better policy.” Others pointed out that it has the potential to prevent families from walking down the street and to lead to inequitable enforcement.

Nonetheless, the county’s new ordinance is seen by the experts as a step in the right direction to reducing disease spread, so long as it is obeyed and succeeds in breaking up the crowds.

“This ordinance highlights the importance of social distancing and wearing masks even outdoors,” Roess said. “However, if this ordinance is not enforced then it will not be effective.”

The police department plans to begin issuing violations and fines that are not to exceed $100 following a public education campaign about the ordinance and the posting of signs, the county said shortly after it passed..

Photo courtesy Brad Haywood

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MidAtlantic Urgent Care is closing after nearly nine years in business, citing a big financial hit from the pandemic.

The locally-owned clinic at 3301 Wilson Boulevard first opened in 2011. It is closing permanently at the end of May.

In an email to patients, the clinic said it cannot continue meeting its expenses while COVID-19 keeps patients away.

To Our Dear Patients,

It is with mixed emotions that we announce that we will be closing our urgent and primary care practice: MidAtlantic Urgent Care LLC at 3301 Wilson Blvd. effective May 31, 2020. We simply cannot sustain the financial loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a great pleasure to assist you with your health care needs during the nine years that we have practiced in the Arlington, VA area.

During this pandemic, we are aware of the difficulty of renewing medications and finding a new practice; therefore, we will continue to use our phone mail, patient portal, and telehealth for communication.

We encourage you to stay within the Privia Medical Group system – this will allow easy access to your medical records which are shared within this impressive group of health care providers. Locally there is Pulmonary and Medical Associates, Arlington Primary Care, and Premier Primary Care Physicians – to name a few.

Other urgent care clinics nearby, along the Orange Line corridor, include Ballston Urgent Care and AllCare Family Medicine and Urgent Care.

Photo via MidAtlantic Urgent Care. Hat tip to Dave Schutz.

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Morning Notes

Country Club Files Layoff Notice — Arlington’s Washington Golf and Country Club has filed a WARN Act notice of potential layoffs. The club said it may lay off up to 188 employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. [InsideNova]

Local Eye Doctor Sees Big Decline in Business — “Dr. Nicole Renaud, an Arlington, Virginia, ophthalmologist, said she had a full schedule of patients and worked long hours before the pandemic. Now, she sees a few patients a week, mostly through telemedicine… As a result, her practice’s income has fallen by a stunning 90%.” [WTOP]

SUVs Stolen from Koons Toyota Dealership — “At approximately 1:44 p.m. on April 21, police were dispatched to the report of several stolen vehicles. Upon arrival, it was determined that during an inventory of vehicles, four 2020 silver Toyota Highlanders were determined to have been stolen between April 7 and April 21.” [Arlington County]

Civ Fed Zooms into Virtual Future — “For 104 years, the Arlington County Civic Federation held its monthly meetings in a group setting. But on April 21, to address the COVID-19 public-health situation, the organization conducted its proceedings in a ‘virtual’ setting. ‘We are experimenting,’ Civic Federation president Allan Gajadhar said at the opening of the meeting, held on the online platform Zoom.” [InsideNova]

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