Our Safe Patient Project Director, Lisa McGiffert joined two California Safe Patient activists–Marian Hollingsworth and Michele Monserratt-Ramos–in San Francisco for the July quarterly meeting of the Medical Board of California. Our mission was to introduce our Docs on Probation campaign and present over 5,100 signatures of Californians who want their Medical Board to require its physicians to inform them of their probation status. Lisa asked the board why it is so determined to defend the 400+ doctors on probation instead of protecting their patients. Marian and Michele testified to inform the board about their Docs on Probation outreach. In addition to the live meeting, the medical board’s teleconference line was live with Californians ready to participate and give opinions on how the Medical Board makes decisions that affect their families. Over the course of those two board meeting days, a critical patient safety issue that activists have spent years working on––secret physician diversion programs–reared its head.
Here’s a report from Michele:
Activist Marian Hollingsworth presented her Op Ed that was published in the Sacramento Bee. She described her surprise when she checked the physician profile of doctors she had seen in the past. In doing so, she discovered a doctor she had been referred to was about to start a 7 year term of probation. I discussed my recent contribution to the Safe Patient Project blog. Utilizing the Board’s public documents, I told the story of a long-term substance abusing physician who had a long arrest record including spending 8 months in jail. I compared how the DMV regulated this doctor’s license versus how the MBC monitored his license to protect the public. Records showed how the DMV took regular and swift action before the MBC acted ensuring the safety of California drivers while California patients were left in situations that had potential for harm. The Consumers Union California Safe Patient Network took to the teleconference line to voice their concerns. Activist Nurse Suzan Shinazy spoke of the need for transparency. The Board did not comment on the campaign.
When the issue of physician diversion programs was discussed, Michele spoke of her late fiancé Lloyd Monserratt’s death while under the care of a known substance abusing doctor. She reminded the Board that they are appointed to not rehabilitate physicians but to protect California consumers/California patients. Lisa offered public comment questioning whether another diversion program was consistent with public protection and Marian addressed the Board citing an example of a substance abusing doctor from San Diego.
I then spoke about a San Diego doctor who had been offered the diversion program after his fourth DUI, then went on to relapse twice during the treatment; he also dropped out of two other rehab programs, all while keeping his license and performing surgeries.
After a motion was passed to create a committee to explore another diversion program for California doctors, we were not surprised by the Board’s actions. What I did find surprising was that every public board member voted in support of the committee. Although the Medical Board of California voted unanimously to abolish the confidential physician diversion program in 2007 citing that the program was putting Californians at risk, the Board has made it known for quite some time that they have been entertaining the thought of bringing the program back. In the past, the Medical Board of California and the California legislature have both agreed that confidential physician diversion programs are a threat to patient safety; the current Board appears to side strongly on the side of the rehabilitation of the physician instead of the protection of California patients. That should be a concern of not just patient safety activists but every Californian.
Whether in person or online, we will continue to advocate for the patient’s right to know about their doctor. We expect the Docs on Probation issue to be placed on the Board agenda for the October Medical Board of California Quarterly Board meeting. Stay tuned for more updates on our blog and on Twitter (#DocsOnProbation).