Medscape Article Critical of Physician Health Programs (PHPs): An Important Milestone in Exposing Abuse and Injustice

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Mainstream Media, Societal Beliefs and Perceived Authority

Iris Martyn’s article below concerns mainstream media bias and the powerful role social media can play in combatting it. Tangential dissident voices often go unheard (or are silenced) when they oppose perceived authority or mainstream societal beliefs and majority mores.

Martyn gives the example of Suffragettes who were frequently accused of “having ‘magnificently succeeded … in their intention of making themselves a nuisance’, a dismissive claim that covers up the threat” and downplays both the validity of the cause and the character of those behind it.

According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify those opinions irrespective of the foundation or veracity of those opinions.

Dissenting voices are all too frequently met with a wall of blinkered apathy or openly dismissed or opposed by mainstream media.

As a result valid complaints and concerns are either unreported, underreported or reported as invalid or misguided hyperbole.

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Medscape Article Critical of  Physician Health Programs (PHPs) Opens Door to a more focused attack

The  importance of a recent article published in Medscape  and critical of state Physician Health Programs (PHPs) cannot be overemphasized.

Physician Health Programs- More Harm Than Good? by Pauline Anderson breaks new ground as it is the first mainstream medical publication to address serious and pervasive concerns of the unregulated and unchecked power of these monitoring programs for doctors as an increasing number of reports involving threats, intimidation and fraud come in from doctors across the country.

Originally funded by medical societies and staffed by volunteers, these programs existed in every state by 1980.   PHPs are the equivalent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for other occupations and meet with, assess and monitor doctors who have been referred for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems.

Over time these programs have been subverted.  They have become a power unto themselves.  They no longer represent doctors or the public but the interests of the “recovery related racket.”   Doctors are being diagnosed with illnesses they don’t have to provide treatment they don’t need all to line the purses of the drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry and their associates.  At the same time doctors who are ill and do need help are not getting the proper treatment. They don’t get better but worse and never return to practice.   How many doctors who are perfectly healthy or recovered from illness properly treated are we losing each year to suicide?    How many suffer in silence out of fear of being ensnared by these punitive, rigid and one-size fits all programs that claim to exist to protect the public?

PHPs are needed.  Doctors who develop problems with addiction or psychiatric problems need to be removed from practice and protect the public, receive treatment until they are healthy enough to return to practice and monitored for a period of time to make sure they remain health.   But under current management by the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP) this is not happening.   PHPs have become Frankenstein’s of coercion, control and abuse that help a few doctors and cause a great deal of harm to the rest.  Doctors across the country have been going to local media, law enforcement, the state’s  Attorney General,  the ACLU and other agencies only to be turned a deaf ear.  With the PHP as perceived authority these doctors have been labeled “impaired” and the delegitimization and stigma has prevented their truth from being heard.

To date there have been 187 comments on this article and 301 comments on Dr. Pamela Wible’s related piece entitled “Do Physician Health Programs Increase Physician Suicides?” which was published August 28, 2015 on Medscape and subsequently on KevinMD where it has become the most popular article this week with 243 comments to date.  And the consensus so far from reading the more than 700 comments is that PHPs are not only causing harm but serious harm on a large scale.  This is by a landslide. The comments raise specific and serious questions that are not being answered by the FSPHP or their sympathizers and apologists.

The FSPHP is tongue-tied in the face of facts and reason as the  individual horror stories mount.  The testimonials and criticisms are articulate, specific and remarkably similar.   It appears to be a rigged game in which all outside opinion is dismissed and no due process exists. Coercion, control, threats, abuse, intimidation and abuse of power are seen crystal clear.

Minor infractions, one-offs, situational problems, anonymous referrals and even false-reports have led doctors into a system in which they have absolutely no control that includes fabricated drug and alcohol tests, diagnosis rigging and unneeded treatment for three months or longer in “PHP-approved”  cash only inpatient facilities with close ideological and financial ties to the PHPs.  This is political abuse of psychiatry and institutional injustice and it is undoubtedly the cause of the marked increase in physician suicide.

So hats off to Pauline Anderson and Caroline Cassels for having the perspicacity. persistence and courage to shine a light on what was previously ignored or deflected.  As a perceived authority the FSPHP and state PHPs believe they are beyond reproach. Specific serious concerns accumulating testimonials of doctors across the country with similar stories are being met with silence and mainstream media need take note of this.  We need to shine a larger light in this direction and with dispatch.    Sunshine is after all  the best disinfectant

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Injustice In The Media

By Iris Martyn, Form 6 •

In 1903, outspoken suffragettes “defaced” thousands of one-penny coins by stamping “Votes for Women” onto them and releasing them back into circulation. In fact, ever since complex human social structures came into existence, those who have suffered under their dividing, categorising, and often somewhat arbitrary rules have sought to express themselves in ways that bring to light their humanity and the harsh reality of oppressive conditions.

Often, established media such as print journalism, only enforces the values of a biased society in which the privileged are accustomed to the predominance of their views.

This occurs at the expense of dissident voices. To continue the earlier example, “Suffragettes on the War Path” were frequently accused of having “magnificently succeeded … in their intention of making themselves a nuisance”, a dismissive claim that covers up the threat felt by male politicians at the thought of universal suffrage, and also downplays the aim of the Suffragettes’ cause, reducing them to nothing more than rowdy troublemakers as far as the media is concerned.

However, this is not a carefully preserved historical phenomenon from the bad old days when societal inequality was present, as opposed to our shining, gender-equal, race-blind present. We cannot describe the times when the oppressed spoke out against the status quo, armed with today’s perfect values and the smugness of hindsight.

Even the epicentres of Western civilisation, which hold themselves to be the pinnacle of human creation, by which I mean North America and Western Europe, are riddled with deeply-ingrained bias towards white, old, rich heterosexual men.

When the media outlets cease to present an accurate and unbiased account of events, today’s protestors rely on social media to organise demonstrations, collect evidence of bias, unfair treatment, and eyewitness accounts of injustice.

On the 8th of June, 2014, two right-wing white Neo-Nazis entered a restaurant in Las Vegas, shot two policemen dead, and left a swastika on one of the bodies. This went unreported by Fox News, a major US “news” programme.

On the 9th of August, 2014, an 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot six times in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer in broad daylight. His body lay in the street for several hours. A grand jury chose not to indict his killer. Multiple Fox News hosts were “outraged” at the public anger towards the murderer of an innocent, unarmed boy, as the officer was “doing his job”. The resulting protests from Ferguson’s Black community, during which many civilians were illegally arrested, tear-gassed and shot with rubber-coated metal bullets, were dismissed as having nothing to do with Michael’s murder. Fox News correspondent Rudolph Giuliani, former New York City mayor, claimed that “the racial arsonists … have worked these people up so much with propaganda that facts don’t matter”.

Meanwhile, as support from nearby politicians was lacking, support for Ferguson protestors came, over the internet, from victims of attacks in Palestine. They sent messages of solidarity to the city’s inhabitants, along with advice on how to protect oneself, and recover, from the effects of canisters full of tear gas that were thrown into peaceful protests. As local schools that usually provide a daily meal for schoolchildren closed, a crowdfunding campaign raised $155,000 for the Ferguson foodbank, another raised $130,000 to help Michael Brown’s parents with legal fees, and yet another raised nearly $25,000 to provide college education for his siblings.

Social media was not only used to provide support for the Ferguson community, but to create eyewitness reports on police brutality and racism and to raise public awareness of injustice. In the shooting of yet another young black man, Antonio Martin, witnesses with camera phones documented the mysterious appearance of a gun at the crime scene nearly three hours after his death – planted by the police department.  On one tumultuous night of protests, demonstrators moved aside respectfully to allow an ambulance to pass through. As multiple witnesses assert, the ambulance was full of armed police officers, in defiance of international law.

Yet even this is not the most shocking demonstration of the power of the US police force in recent times. In July 2014, a 43-year-old asthmatic black man was put into an illegal chokehold by a police officer in New York City. His head was hit against the pavement multiple times by another officer. Eric Gartner, described as “just a big teddy bear” by his family, shouted “I can’t breathe” six times as he was choked to death. Despite video evidence from multiple bystanders who filmed his murder, unable to do anything else for fear of attack from the police, again a grand jury chose not to indict his killers. The slogan “I can’t breathe” swept the world when the details of this murder were posted on Twitter, sparking worldwide protests.

When national news outlets focused on the possibility that Michael Brown had just robbed a corner store before his death, or that Eric Gartner was a drug addict, in an attempt to justify their deaths, those who were close to the victims used social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter, to speak out against these character assassinations. Michael Brown’s mother spoke about her son’s kind nature, and her difficulty in persuading him to finish high school – black children are much more unlikely to succeed in the US education system.

Eric Gartner’s friends and family spoke about their disappointment in the judicial system, while photographs of his mother wearing an “I can’t breathe” t-shirt to the grand jury hearing circulated quickly over the internet. When a 13-year-old Black boy was shot dead in North California for carrying a BB gun, a white former robber recalled his aspirations to crime on Tumblr, where the police underwent an hour of patient negotiation to convince him to put down his very real firearm, which contrasts with the utter lack of communication with the friendly, innocent, eighth-grader, Andy Lopez.

Besides filling the role that should be occupied with an unbiased and impartial press, social media is used by individuals to criticise the internalised racism of mainstream media, and its idolatry of the police.

One image in widespread online circulation is a composition of two different edited versions of a New York Daily News article which describes a violent incident in a subway. In the first version, a woman was “grabbed” by a “hulking brute” who “shoved her onto the platform and began choking her in an unprovoked attack, authorities said”. When the attacker turned out to be a police officer, details of the victim, that provoke sympathy in readers, were removed. Now she was “allegedly put into a bear hug, thrown to the floor, and choked”. The addition of the word “allegedly”, the description of the assault as a “bear hug”, and the use of the passive voice all disassociate the officer from his crime.

The majority of people tend to see social media as a harmless diversion from reality, a way of boasting about one’s achievements or reconnecting with old friends.

In our world, which still contains so much injustice, this powerful tool brings together those whose voices go unheard by mainstream media.

It allows them to support one another, collect evidence of injustices that go unreported, humanise the victims of violent crimes, and bring light to the bias and agenda of news corporations.

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