Tag Archives: Patient Safety

Dennis Quaid Calls On Californians To Support Pack Patient Safety Act

Dennis Quaid“We were lucky to have a happy ending,” actor Dennis Quaid told a crowd at Consumer Watchdog’s Rage for Justice Awards in 2009. He was talking about the near-fatal overdose that his twins experienced at birth. They were given one thousand times the amount of blood thinner they were supposed to and nearly bled to death. “Their survival was the beginning of my activism.”

Dennis received the Phillip Burton Public Service Award for the spotlight he has put on medical errors and his campaign to introduce bar coding for prescription drugs and electronic medical records into the medical system. Cedars Sinai introduced a $100 million bar coding system in response to the Quaid family.

“People started telling us their story,” Dennis said of people who approached him with their own tales of medical negligence.

Now Dennis has taken a stand for California families victimized by medical negligence. He is asking California voters to sign the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, a California ballot measure to toughen the state’s patient safety laws.

“Troy, 10 years old, and Alana, 7, died because the health care industry has not done a good enough job keeping track of prescription medication,” Quaid said. “Their father, Bob, wrote this ballot measure to change things so other families won’t have to live through the tragedy his has.”

Dennis urged voters to watch a short, 2-minute video about Bob Pack’s courageous fight and add their signature for the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act.

More than 500,000 signatures have been gathered for the Pack Act.  More than 800,000 signatures must be turned in by March 24th for the ballot measure to be before voters in November.

“This patient safety reform can save lives,” Quaid said. “My family went through a frightening few weeks when our newborn twins received a near-fatal overdose and almost lost their lives. Since then, I have learned that patient safety is a huge problem and that the medical industry needs to learn some lessons from the aviation industry, which has a zero tolerance policy for errors.”

Patient and Consumer Initiatives Will Save Lives and Money

Originally published in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jamie CourtNo political consultant sees more angles than Richie Ross, but his tangent opposing two pro-consumer ballot initiatives, which could turn 2014 into the Year of the Patient, is unsound geometry (“Voters can’t avoid health care politics,” Jan. 2). The ballot measures will save lives and money by closing fatal loopholes in Obamacare and California’s patient-safety laws.

The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to buy insurance but does not limit its cost. The “Justify Rates” ballot initiative before voters in November requires California health insurers to justify rate hikes and get approval before they take effect, as now happens in 35 other states.

The millions of individual policyholders and tens of thousands of businesses whose rates could not go up without state approval under the measure are those who have been hardest hit by premium increases over the past decade.

The ballot measure applies California’s tough property casualty insurance regulation, enacted by voters in 1988 as Proposition 103, to health insurance. A recent study by the Consumer Federation of America found the law has saved California drivers $102 billion. Drivers today pay less in real money than they did in 1988, the only state to see any decline.

The same tough rate regulation already applies to medical-malpractice insurance for physicians and hospitals, including that paid for by private clinics.

Consumer Watchdog has used the law’s protections to lower medical-malpractice insurance premiums by $77 million over the past decade. Ironically, doctors enjoy the protection that millions of Californians who pay for health insurance don’t yet have.

That’s why arguments that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, now circulating, will raise malpractice rates are phony.

This ballot measure will save lives by curbing substance abuse by doctors, stemming the tide of overprescribing, and updating a 38-year-old cap on victims’ recovery that prevents injured patients from getting justice.

The California Medical Board estimates that 18 percent of doctors have a drug or alcohol problem during their careers. Mandatory drug testing, as now applies to most other public safety professions, will prevent dangerous doctors from practicing. Updating our medical-malpractice laws will allow victims of drugged, drunk and dangerous doctors to get justice.

One quarter of all medical discipline in the state involves abuse of drugs or alcohol. The Pack Patient Safety Act will protect the victims of this abuse and their families from the third leading cause of death in America: medical malpractice.

Jamie Court, proponent of the initiative requiring public justification of health insurance rates, is president of Consumer Watchdog. Carmen Balber is the nonprofit group’s executive director.

To the Ballot for Alana and Troy

Pack MemorialLast Sunday, at the 10th memorial of my children’s death, we started a march to the ballot for patient safety.  I hope you will join us. My seven year old, Alana, and ten year old, Troy,  died because an addict got thousands of pills she never should have been prescribed since she had no physical symptoms.

She fell asleep at the wheel, swerved off the road and killed Alana and Troy. Yesterday we gathered the first signatures at Troy and Alana’s elementary school for the Troy and Alana Patient Safety Act — which seeks to stop substance abuse among patients and physicians, as well as creating legal deterrence for reckless prescribing and dangerous medicine.

As I wrote in an oped in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, we are going directly to the voters because the state’s medical association has opposed modest reform of patient safety laws at every turn in the legislature.

No family should have to live through what mine has because doctors didn’t know or care that they were prescribing thousands of pills to a drug addict.

In the coming weeks, you will be seeing signature gatherers at your local markets asking for your signature for the Pack Patient Safety Act. Please take a moment to sign and help us bring these critical issues of patient safety to the voters of California.  We need 504,000 signatures from voters to make the November 2014 election, please help us help other families avoid the needless pain mine has had to endure. If you would like to learn more about the Pack Act and get involved in the signature gathering effort, please visit http://www.packact.org.

Posted by Bob Pack – Creator of the California CURES database and proponent of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Act.  

Shouldn’t Doctors Have To Pee In The Cup Too?

Pee in a Cup The Musical: Part IPilots, college athletes, bus drivers and Disneyland cast members all are subjected to mandatory drug testing, but not the doctor performing open heart surgery, or a vasectomy. Not yet.

Substance abuse among doctor runs twice as high among doctors as the general population — 18% of physicians according to the California Medical Board. It’s no wonder, they can deal their own drugs.

It’s time for the change medical experts have been calling for a while. To make the case, this short, funny musical video “Pee In The Cup Part I” will be circulating around Disneyland on a mobile billboard this weekend, where the California Medical Association is convening.

The medical association’s confab in the magic kingdom is a perfect metaphor for the fantasyland the state’s medical establishment has been living in when it come to threats to patient today.

Drug overdose deaths, for example, are the leading cause of accidental death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nonetheless the golden state’s medical lobby worked hard in the legislature this year with the drug companies to keep the narcotics flowing without accountability.

Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a simple bill sending coroners’ reports about prescription drug overdose deaths to the state medical board because the doctors undermined it.  Legislation mandating that doctors check the electronic prescription drug database, known as CURES, about a patients’ history before prescribing narcotics didn’t make it out of the California Senate because the medical association stopped it.  A much-anticipated medical board overhaul, moving investigation of dangerous prescribers to the attorney general, never materialized because of the medical lobby’s opposition.

The only prognosis is that while today’s doctors are dealing with modern problems the medical association is still stuck in Walt Disney’s 1950s mentality that physicians should never be told what to do or have anyone looking over their shoulder, even if it’s a coroner.

Consider substance abuse among doctors. Nearly two in ten doctors abuse drugs and alcohol.

Yet the medical association has long sought to coddle physicians who abuse alcohol and drugs with a now discredited “diversion” program that withheld discipline and accountability for doctors if they went to rehab. After decades of abuse, and revolving doors, the California legislature finally pulled the plug.

Still, drunk and high doctors face little real discipline thanks to the slap-on-the-wrist physician discipline system the medical association has lobbied hard to maintain. Recently, a meth-using doctor convicted of drug dealing got his license back after one year.  A schoolteacher, police officer or lawyer would lose their credential, badge or license.

As a dramatic Los Angeles Times investigation recently showed, prescription drug overdoses are becoming all too common, particularly among teenagers and young adults, as a cadre of “pain management” doctors gets rich over the corpses.  What’s shocking is how the medical association fights in the face of such a scandal to protect the small minority of dangerous and dirty doctors that cause the vast majority of harm.  Stunned families who lost loved ones need only look to Disneyland for some answers.

Drug makers ply top physicians with lavish gifts, exotic seminars and fancy lunches, buying not only prescriptions of their products but political clout.  Is that why the white coats were the drug industry’s cover in the capitol to keep the drugs flowing without requiring physicians to check whether they are prescribing to addicts?  

Kaiser Permanente, which reportedly pays a huge check to the California Medical Association each year for the dues of its thousands of doctors, wields great power over the association too, including employing its current president. Is that why CMA’s doctors are the main opponents of reforms Kaiser and health insurers don’t like, such as a 2014 ballot measure to regulate health insurance rates through the same successful regulation that now applies to auto insurance and home insurance rates?  (A ballot measure I authored and my consumer group qualified for the ballot.)

One father, who lost two young children to an addict’s driving and reckless prescribing, has had enough. Bob Pack created the CURES electronic database only to have to fight the medical association for its funding and use.  He is now circulating a ballot measureto require mandatory drug and alcohol testing for doctors, force doctors to check the CURES database before prescribing narcotics, and to index for inflation a 38 year old cap on malpractice victims’ recovery.

Nothing is likely to shake the House at Disney so much as having to pee in a cup. After this year’s legislative debacle, it’s high time someone like Pack bring the medical association back to earth.

Jamie Court is the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Consumer Watchdog and a backer of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act. Originally posted on the Huffington Post on October 10, 2013

Is Your Doctor Opposed To Peeing In A Cup? Check The List

Does Your Doctor Oppose Patient Safety ReformA drunk Orange County plastic surgeon reportedly disfigured at least a half dozen patients before losing his license. A Rocklin anesthesiologist was arrested for taking anesthesia through an extra IV line while administering it to a patient.  A meth-using doctor who was convicted of drug dealing will get his doctor’s license back after a year.

Does your doctor oppose mandatory drug testing for physicians? Check the list.

Substance abuse among California physicians is higher than the general population, yet unlike bus drivers and pilots, physicians don’t have to take drug tests.  A proposed patient safety ballot measure requires mandatory drug testing of physicians, but a group of doctors is raising big bucks to stop these and other common sense patient safety measures.

Consumer Watchdog has published the list of doctors across the state who have given money to the opponents of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act. We think patients should know if their doctors are standing in the way of their safety and will be sharing the list with millions of Californians.

Troy, 10 years old, and Alana, 7, were hit and killed by a drug abusing driver prescribed thousands of pills by negligent physicians. Their dad, Bob Pack, is the author of the ballot measure to create mandatory drug testing among physicians, require doctors to use an electronic prescription drug database and modernize patient safety laws.

Check the list and ask your doctor if he or she opposes modest patient safety reforms.

It’s time for the medical establishment to explain why it is resisting common sense solutions to weed out the small number of dangerous and dirty doctors that commit the vast majority of medical malpractice.

Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

I Support Planned Parenthood, Why Isn’t Planned Parenthood Supporting Women?

Planned ParenthoodFifteen women and mothers whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence wrote to the CEOs of Planned Parenthood today asking them to reverse a position that is devastating to women’s health and access to justice in California. The letter asked the CEOs to reverse their position on a proposed ballot measure to change a law that has discriminated against women for the last 38 years.

Read the letter here.

“We are women whose lives have been shattered by medical negligence,” they wrote. “We take issue with Planned Parenthood’s leading role in opposition to ‘The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act,’ a pending California ballot measure that would simply update for inflation the state’s 38 year old cap on compensation in medical malpractice cases. The outdated cap is unfair to many who have suffered medical harm, regardless of gender. But it has a disproportionate impact on women.”

“Planned Parenthood’s opposition to the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is against the interests of women in this state – your core constituency. The unfair, antiquated and sexist cap perpetuates an injustice against women that must be remedied. As a group that has been so deeply impacted by medical negligence and this outdated law, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in hopes you will reconsider your position on the ballot measure and support a reasonable index of the cap for inflation to bring California’s patient safety laws and women’s access to justice into the 21st century.”

Read more about the medical negligence suffered by the 15 women and their families here.

The letter explained how the limits on patients’ legal rights in medical negligence cases particularly harms women.

“In much the same way that the glass ceiling continues to undercut the income of working women, the malpractice cap on noneconomic damages means compensation for those harmed by medical negligence is largely determined by the income of the person who was injured. The calculus is simple and sexist.”

“A stay-at-home parent with no income or a parent who works only part-time to be able to spend more time with the children will be treated very differently under the cap than someone who is working full-time at a high-paying job.”

“A woman whose child was killed by medical negligence, or who lost her ability to have children due to medical negligence, or who underwent an unnecessary mastectomy due to medical negligence, is not likely to lose income.  But she has clearly suffered a grievous injury. Her compensation for her loss is limited to an amount below what anyone would consider fair in 2013.”

Planned Parenthood is usually a champion for women’s rights, so their backwards position on this issue is particularly stunning. Luckily, there’s still time before the initiative reaches the ballot for the leaders of Planned Parenthood to listen to the women of California and recant.

Posted by Carmen Balber, Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog.  For more information on Consumer Watchdog visit us online or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Historic Step for Patient Safety & Victims’ Rights

Bob PackWe just wanted to let you know that we have filed a ballot measure that has been 37 years in the making. If we collect about 750,000 valid signatures, voters will have a chance to adjust for inflation a three and a half decade-old cap on the value of a child’s life if he or she is killed by medical negligence — a $250,000 limit that has never been changed.

Bob Pack, who lost his seven year-old daughter and ten year-old son on a roadside nine years ago, is the author of the ballot measure to address the drug overdose and physician accountability issues at the heart of his family’s tragedy, which you can read about below.

California voters have helped us qualify one initiative for next year’s ballot already — the Health Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act.  Now we wanted to let you know that there will soon be opportunities for you to work with us on a new health care reform measure that deals with patient safety issues. 2014 is shaping up to be “The Year of the Patient.” If you want to help out, please email us at [email protected] and let us know what you are willing to do.

The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act includes the following changes to California law:

  • Mandatory random drug and alcohol testing for physicians and mandatory physician drug and alcohol testing after reports of adverse events;
  • Mandatory use by physicians of the electronic CURES database, a searchable system that tracks prescriptions dispensed in California, which Pack developed for the state of California in the wake of his family’s tragedy;
  • Adjusting for inflation the 37-year-old $250,000 cap on recovery for medical negligence victims, which has not changed since 1975, and as the author of the original law, Barry Keene, recently came forward to support;
  • Requiring doctors who witness substance abuse by physicians or medical negligence to report it, and protecting those physicians from lawsuits by other doctors when they do.

Why is Bob Pack, our recent Rage for Justice Award-winner, taking on this cause?

Alana and Troy Pack were walking on a sidewalk in Danville with Bob’s wife, Carmen, when a drugged driver fell unconscious at the wheel and swerved off the road, killing the two children and injuring Carmen. The Packs also lost their unborn twins.

The driver, Jimena Barreto, turned out to be a doctor-shopping drug addict who was convicted of second-degree murder and imprisoned for 30 years to life. The Kaiser doctors who prescribed her thousands of pills, however, were never held accountable for their negligence.

Barreto had no physical symptoms, but managed to stockpile narcotics without any oversight.

In the wake of his family’s tragedy, Pack found that Kaiser’s doctors had no idea they were all over-prescribing to the same doctor shopper. There was no computer system tracking prescriptions patients received. Pack drew on his technology background to develop the electronic CURES database, a searchable system that tracks prescriptions dispensed in California. Unfortunately, too few doctors currently use the system. Kaiser does not use the CURES database either.

The Packs were only entitled to the cap of $250,000 for each of their children’s lives, because that is the maximum value of a child’s life under the 37-year-old cap on noneconomic damages signed into law during Jerry Brown’s first term as Governor.  The cap is worth merely $58,000 today in 1975 dollars.  Adjusting the cap for inflation would increase it to $1.1 million in 2013.

You can read the ballot measure here. You can read Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton’s column on the ballot measure here.

We’re off to the ballot again.

Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Ten Dangerous Doctors Are Poster Children for Patient Safety Reform

Top Ten Dangerous DoctorsTen doctors that the California Medical Board failed to take off the streets before repeated acts of negligence and patient endangerment harmed or killed their patients make the case for reforming California’s patient safety laws, said Consumer Watchdog today.

Consumer Watchdog released a “Top Ten Dangerous Doctors” list of physicians whose negligence injured or even killed their patients.

These ten dangerous doctors are some of the most egregious overprescribers, repeat offenders, and drug and alcohol users in California. Their stories show the urgent need for action by California lawmakers to replace a Medical Board that has allowed bad doctors to continue to practice, and to raise the outdated cap on patients’ ability to hold negligent doctors accountable in court.

Last month, Consumer Watchdog joined the 38IsTooLate.org coalition to announce a patient safety ballot measure that will raise the cap on damages in medical negligence lawsuits and require physicians to check a prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics. The coalition, including Bob Pack who lost his two children to a drug addict who was overprescribed narcotics, will place the measure on the ballot if the legislature fails to enact patient safety reform legislation this year.

The “Top Ten Dangerous Doctors” who make the case for patient safety reform include:

  • Dr. Van Vu and Dr. Carlos Estiandan, identified as over-prescribers in a Los Angeles Times investigation and who together had at least 25 patients die from prescription drug overdoses. Neither has lost their medical license.
  • Dr. Aria Omar Sabit and Dr. Israel Chambi, neurosurgeons who together have had at least 55 medical malpractice lawsuits filed against them. Chambi continues to practice despite 10 malpractice settlements and having lost his post at two medical centers. No action was taken against Sabit after he moved his practice out of state.
  • Dr. Craig Alan Bittner, Dr. Efrain Gonzalez (and his wife Dr. Yessennia Candelaria), all physicians who practiced cosmetic surgery with no formal training. The three had their licenses suspended or revoked by the Medical Board only after arrests had taken place and at least 21 of their patients were severely disfigured.
  • Dr. Brian West and Dr. Daryl Westerback were each arrested twice for driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs. West did not lose his license until nine years after the first complaint against him and being arrested for drunk driving on the way to treat a patient. Westerback, who is accused of treating patients while under the influence, lost his license to prescribe but continues to practice.
  • Dr. Andrew Rutland had his license revoked a decade ago after the deaths of two infants and 15 malpractice claims, but was reinstated five years later. Rutland lost his license again in 2011 after being found responsible for another patient death.
  • Dr. Shane Sheibani, a plastic surgeon who left dozens of patients disfigured, had his license suspended in 2009 but continued to practice and harm patients for three more years before his license was finally revoked.

Reforms being considered in “The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act” include:

— Raising or repealing the cap on damages in medical malpractice cases.

— Mandatory drug and alcohol testing for doctors.

— Full funding of the CURES database and mandatory use by physicians before prescribing narcotics.

— Medical Board reform including a public member majority, increased transparency of complaints and transferring investigative powers to the Department of Justice.

Top Ten Dangerous Doctors

Top 10 Dangerous Doctors

Dr. Aria Omar Sabit

Neurosurgeon. Twenty lawsuits were filed against Sabit stemming from the 17 months he practiced in Ventura County, alleging misplaced screws in spinal fusions, post-op infections and botched brain surgery. Victims say Sabit made so many mistakes in such a short period of time that Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and Ventura County Neurosurgical Associates Medical Group should have intervened long before the medical group fired him in December 2010. Attorneys for those patients have dubbed Sabit “The Butcher.” Community Memorial officials said they asked the Medical Board of California to investigate. In February 2012 Medical Board representatives would not comment on the possibility of an investigation involving Sabit, but told a reporter no action had been taken against him since he was licensed to practice in California in 2009. Sabit is now practicing in Michigan.

Dr. Van Vu

Pain management specialist, California Pain Center of Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach. Seventeen of Vu’s patients died of overdoses connected to medicine he prescribed — the most deaths connected to any of the 71 Southern California doctors identified by the Los Angeles Times whose patients had suffered 3 or more prescription drug overdose deaths. The Medical Board began an investigation only after the article exposed Vu. There are currently no restrictions on his practice.

Dr. Shane Sheibani

Plastic surgeon. Sheibani drew dozens of complaints and lawsuits from patients who were left disfigured, with open wounds and in pain. He was placed on probation by the Medical Board in 2009, but continued to practice and more patients were harmed. His license was finally suspended in August 2012. He now calls himself a “psycho-spiritual coach,” yet told an undercover news reporter he could still perform surgery.

Dr. Craig Alan Bittner

Was a Beverly Hills radiologist who performed liposuction. He allowed his assistant, who was also his girlfriend, to perform liposuction although she was not a doctor and had no formal training in the procedure. Patients began complaining as early as 2008, and at least nine women were left disfigured and in pain. Bittner did not surrender his license until 2011. In criminal prosecution, Bittner was allowed to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor count. His five-year sentence was reduced to two. He has reportedly changed his name and is now attending law school.

Dr. Efrain Gonzalez

A gynecologist performing cosmetic surgery, and his wife, Dr. Yessennia Candelaria, a pediatrician. Multiple complaints to the California Medical Board ultimately uncovered at least 15 patients who alleged their failed cosmetic surgeries by Gonzalez left them deformed and, in at least one case, with paralysis. Only after more than 18 months of investigation and an arrest – in which Gonzalez was charged with 31 felony counts – was his license suspended in March 2013. Candelaria’s license was suspended in May 2013, after she was charged with 15 felony counts and a DEA warrant affidavit alleging she had a drug habit. In one case, she allegedly administered anesthesia to a patient “…while simultaneously administering the drug to herself via an additional intravenous line. According to a medical assistant assisting in the procedure, Dr. Candelaria lost consciousness in the operating room.”

Dr. Israel Chambi

An Orange County neurosurgeon. Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, removed Chambi as head of neurosurgery in 2003 after it was reported there were more than 35 malpractice lawsuits against him. The department he chaired generated over $38 million a year for Western Medical Center. Patients and families alleged that they or their loved ones were severely disfigured, suffered devastating brain or nerve damage, or in one case, narrowly evaded invasive brain surgery by Chambi when other doctors said none was necessary. Chambi had previously lost his post as a medical professor at UCI Medical Center after accusations of unnecessary surgery and incompetence were raised by other UCI doctors. Of the 35 malpractice suits, 10 won settlements totaling $3 million. The Medical Board opened three investigations but no action was taken. Dr Chambi today runs his own brain, spine and nerve practice.

Dr. Brian West

Orange County plastic surgeon. Complaints against West began in 2000, ultimately filed by at least six patients who said he left them severely deformed. None of them knew that West had a substance abuse problem, or that he had entered the Medical Board’s secret addiction monitoring program. In 2005, he was placed on five years probation after two convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as “multiple acts of dishonesty” while a participant in the addiction monitoring program. Documents say he directed an employee to falsify Alcoholics Anonymous sign-in logs to make it appear he had attended meetings. In 2009 he was found guilty of disfiguring a former breast cancer patient after performing a surgery she had not consented to and lying to an investigator about being on his way to the hospital when he got into a drunken driving accident.  West’s case helped spur the closure of the Medical Board’s failed drug and alcohol diversion program, which allowed doctors with substance abuse problems to hide that information from their patients. The Medical Board finally revoked his license in May 2009.

Dr. Carlos Estiandan

Operated three pain clinics in Los Angeles.  According to court records, Estiandan prescribed powerful painkillers to addicts who had no medical need for them, conducted sham examinations and appeared to be a key supplier for drug dealers. He wrote more prescriptions than the entire staffs of some hospitals and took in more than $1 million a year. Despite investigations by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and LA County Sheriff’s department, the Medical Board did not stop him from prescribing until four years after opening its own investigation. Eight of his patients died of overdoses in the period while the investigations dragged on.

Dr. Daryl Westerback

A Thousand Oaks psychiatrist. Dr. Westerback was arrested twice this year for driving under the influence of prescription drugs, and sheriffs now accuse him of overprescribing to patients. He is connected with at least one overdose-related death, and is suspected of treating patients while under the influence of opiates. No action had been taken against Dr. Westerback before the criminal investigation began; his license to prescribe has now been suspended, however his medical license remains current.

Dr. Andrew Rutland

An obstetrician-gynecologist in Anaheim. Dr. Rutland had his license revoked for negligence in 2002 after the death of an infant in childbirth, the death of a second infant, and numerous other allegations that led to 15 civil lawsuits. The Medical Board reinstated Rutland’s license in 2007. Rutland was forced to surrender his license again in 2011 after an investigation finding him responsible for the death of another patient, this time a 30-year-old who he gave the wrong dose of anesthesia.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Ventura County Star, OC Weekly, Sacramento Business Journal, Orange County Register, Fox 11 – KTTV, KABC – 7, CBS 2/ KCAL 9, News 10 ABC, CBS Sacramento and Medical Board of California

Posted by Carmen Balber, Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

Statehouse Responds: Threatens to Put Medical Board Out of Business

Enough is Enough

Last month, at an emotional in hearing in Sacramento and in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, we called for the state agency that oversees doctors to become a stronger regulator or to go out of business.  The Legislature has to renew the doctor-run medical board every ten years, and that’s this year. Sacramento apparently agrees with us.

After an emotional outpouring from families who lost their love ones to dangerous doctors, and thousands of emails from Californians, the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly Business and Professions Committees sent a message.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that chairs Curren Price and Richard Gordon have written the medical board to state that they will not reauthorize the board unless it commits to major changes.

This is a big and important step toward strong patient protections in this state. The California Medical Association has for too long stymied real change for patients in the Capitol, and now Gordon and Price have upped the ante by acknowledging the depth of the problem for patients.

Three important areas need to be reformed, as Carmen Balber and I outlined in the San Francisco Chronicle op-ed:

A true overhaul of physician discipline would move complaint investigators into the attorney general’s office to work hand in hand with prosecutors and would create a public-member majority on the medical board.

Real reform should also include mandatory random drug testing of high-risk surgeons and physicians – as is mandated now for bus drivers, college athletes and pilots.

Finally, the state’s 38-year-old limits on the rights of injured patients need to be revisited, too. It’s time for the public to take the power back for itself.

The movement is afoot, and we have taken another step toward greater patient safety. Stay tuned. Momentum is building but we still have a long march ahead.


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Patients Can Change Patient Safety

Jamie Court

There aren’t too many great days for patient safety in state capitols, where the medical establishment tends to rule the roost through the power of its political giving and tentacles. But Monday was a great day for patient safety in Sacramento, when powerful testimony reminded legislators of the human cost of inaction.

The families of victims of overprescribing spent an hour and half in the Senate and Assembly Business and Professions Committees and presented some of the most compelling testimony ever heard there. Their stories and faces were felt around the Capitol Tuesday from huge photographs on the front pages of the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times to TV news stories echoing legislative sympathy for reform.

Smick FamilyThe medical establishment  is now on the defensive.  A Medical Board overhaul is in the air. Debate is turning to the government not protecting patients enough.

Will the clarity these courageous families brought to the failure of California’s laws to protect patient safety grow or wither in the coming days?  It’s up to us, but I think it will grow.

Carmen Balber and I asked in an oped in Monday morning’s San Francisco Chronicle whether it wasn’t time to pull the plug on the current physician-run medical board. We wrote:

For decades, the medical board has failed to identify dangerous practice patterns, such as over-prescribing, which should trigger investigation. In fact, the board only acts on complaints by consumers, and then rarely. Once an investigation is begun, it takes years to resolve, too long for patients who may be at imminent risk of harm.

When prosecuted, an enforcement case can stagnate in five layers of review. Sadly, little other deterrence exists to medical negligence.

Those listening to the tragic stories in Sacramento this week could not help but understand the human consequences of such inaction.  Sons, daughters, brothers, uncles lost. Preventable deaths.

All because the California Medical Association and the state medical board it controls won’t agree to a $9 increase in physician license fees — the cost of two cappuccinos — for workers to find overprescribing doctors in a state database. And due to the grip of this medical establishment over our regulators and the legal system — where families who lose nonwage earners to dirty doctors cannot get legal representation due to a 38 year-old cap on their recovery.

We called for these changes in Monday’s Chronicle.

A true overhaul of physician discipline would move complaint investigators into the attorney general’s office to work hand in hand with prosecutors and would create a public-member majority on the medical board.

Real reform should also include mandatory random drug testing of high-risk surgeons and physicians – as is mandated now for bus drivers, college athletes and pilots. Finally, the state’s 38-year-old limits on the rights of injured patients need to be revisited, too. It’s time for the public to take the power back for itself.

It’s Wednesday morning. Eyes are wide open. And we are a lot closer to patients taking power back than we were before.

Enough is Enough Family Rally


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.