Posted on Louisiana Voice
February 23, 2019 by tomaswell
Trying to decipher which was the first to employ Gestapo-like extortion as a means of controlling licensees is like solving the chicken-or-the-egg riddle, but there’s no question that the methods employed by the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Medical Licensing Board are eerily similar.
Both employ highly questionable investigative methods, both impose stiff fines followed by even more outrageous fines if the licensee displays any will to resist what may even be bogus charges, and both make generous use of the most effective punishment: revocation of licenses—taking away the victim’s very means of earning a livelihood.
And both also occasionally force recalcitrant dentists and physicians to attend costly rehab clinics either in addition to or in lieu of license revocations. And those rehab clinics can cost as much as $30,000 a month.
Sometimes, a professional is sent to a facility that has its own abuse problems. Take the case of Slidell dentist KENNETH STARLING, who, in addition to having to pay an $8,000 fine, was sent by the dental board to a place called Palmetto Addition Recovery Center in Rayville in Richland Parish in 2010.
But PALMETTO, it turned out, was involved a 2009 lawsuit after one of its staff members, Dr. Douglas Wayne Cook, became sexually involved with one of the center’s patients.
And even while at Palmetto, the dental board continued targeting him. Could that be because he practiced in the same town as influential board member Dr. Edward Donaldson?
And while the practices of the dental board have been publicized often by LouisianaVoice, the state medical board essentially plays by the same rules. And, just as with the dental board, the name of Palmetto Addiction Recovery Centers surfaces on a regular basis in report after report, along with Pine Grove Recovery Centers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Physicians’ Health Foundation of Louisiana.
I have chosen to delete the names and locations of the following examples, but the cases serve as examples of an uneven playing field, often dependent upon on the physician in question:
Following his arrest on charges of distribution and possession of controlled and dangerous substances in 2005, Dr. __submitted to substance abuse evaluation at Palmetto. “Apparently, the physician had submitted to chemical dependency treatment on two prior occasions. Upon his discharge from Palmetto, he underwent residential treatment at Pine Grove. His license was reinstated in 2009 but in 2013, the board received information indicating that the physician “had returned to the use of controlled or other mood-altering substances.” In 2018, after being placed on indefinite probation in 2014, his license was “reinstated without restriction.”
___________entered a plea of guilty to one count of Medicaid fraud in 2002 and subsequently underwent in-patient chemical dependency evaluation for cocaine abuse. Following completion of his criminal penalty, he was referred to Physician Health Foundation’s Physician Health Program (PHP). Following his reinstatement in 2008, he was disciplined again in 2018, this time placed on probation for unspecified violations.
___________ was diagnosed in 1999 with cocaine and alcohol addiction and in 2000 was referred to Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia through Physicians’ Health Foundation and later to Fontainebleau Treatment Center in Mandeville. His license was reinstated in 2006 but in 2007, he again came under scrutiny for drug abuse and was again referred to a PHP monitoring program and he was placed on probation by the board for a 10-year period in 2008. He was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.
____ entered a plea of guilty to one count of health care fraud in 2009. In addition to criminal penalties, the board suspended his license for 90 days, placed him on probation for five years, and fined him $3,000. Following his reinstatement in December 2009, it was subsequently learned in 2011 that he had been issuing prescriptions of narcotics, including OxyContin, from his home and vehicle since May 2009 under the auspices of a practice site not approved by the board. The board again suspended his license, this time for six months and he was placed on probation for 10 years.
_____ voluntarily entered into a two-week program at DePaul Hospital in New Orleans for cocaine dependency in 1995 and 1996 before transferring to Talbott Marsh in Atlanta. The board in 1998 ordered him into additional treatment in PHP at Palmetto and placed him on probation for five years. In 2003, he was again placed on five-year probation for failure to comply with requirements set forth in the 1998 order. His license was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.
But when a Lafayette NEUROSURGEON becomes involved in suspected arson and subsequently enters a plea of guilty to one count of felony obstruction of justice, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is strangely silent.
Dr. Nancy Rogers was arrested in 2012 in connection with the fire at Levy-East Bed & Breakfast in Natchitoches, a blaze that caused $500,000 in damage to the unoccupied building. No motive has been given for the fire, but investigators determined it to have been intentionally set.
But in the case of Dr. ARNOLD FELDMAN of Baton Rouge, the board came down especially hard.
In a terse December 20, 2018, LETTER TO FELDMAN, board Executive Director Vincent Culotta, Jr., wrote, “Per the decision and order of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners dated April 13, 2015, the amount due is as follows:
Cost of proceeding—$456,980.60
This is not intended as a treatsie on Feldman’s guilt or innocence, but it’s rather difficult to fathom what “proceedings” could cost nearly $457,000 but that’s the way the dental and medical examiners boards operate. While members of both boards are appointed by the governor, they are apparently accountable to no one and able to set fines and costs at whatever amounts they wish.
Feldman served briefly as a member of the Physicians’ Health Foundation until he started asking questions that made certain people uncomfortable. Four months later, he found himself in the board’s crosshairs. But during his short tenure, he learned that the medical board funnels about a million dollars a year into the foundation. Apparently, there is no accounting for those funds.
Moreover, he said, the so-called “independent judges” hearing cases for possible board disciplinary action are paid by the board investigator’s office, which creates something of a stacked deck going into the process—not to mention an obvious conflict of interest.
Physicians aren’t the only ones to encounter an uncooperative medical board. The Legislative Auditor was forced to SUE the board in order to obtain board records so that it could perform its statutorily-mandated job of auditing the board’s financial records.
Senate Bill 286, the so-called physicians’ Bill of Rights, passed the SENATE by a unanimous 36-0 vote last year but never made it to the floor of the House after being involuntarily deferred in committee.
But a rare unanimous DECISION by the U.S. Supreme Court exactly two months later, on February 20, could impact the way these boards mete out exorbitant fines.
Even though the high court’s ruling on Timbs v. Indiana is considered a blow aimed at criminal justice reform, particularly in the so-called policing for profit through asset forfeiture, its effects could spill over into the way civil fines are handed down by regulatory bodies.
The ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, falls back on the Eighth Amendment that guarantees that no “excessive fines” may be imposed, a concept that dates back to the Magna Carta and later embraced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
It will be interesting to see if any dentist or physician victimized by either of these boards files legal action based on the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling.
If someone does, it could be a game changer.