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North Dakota medical board on the guest list for doc's hospital cocktails

North Dakota medical board on the guest list for doc's hospital cocktails

Picture of William Heisel

Dr. Kristen Peterson liked to get good and drunk, regardless of how many patients she was going to be seeing.

And the only people who knew were the members of the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners. When the board members found out, they didn't think it was information that should be shared with the public: people who might be treated by Peterson at a hospital or clinic.

Instead of making that information freely available on the board's website, the board reports to the public only that there has been a disciplinary action against Peterson. If people want to find out what, why or when, they have to make a formal, written request.

The board did let a few people in on the secret. It sent a memo to the medical board in Wisconsin, where Peterson also held a license.

The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, though, did not make much use of the information.

After being indefinitely suspended from practicing medicine in North Dakota because of her drinking habit in November 2009, Peterson continued to practice medicine in Wisconsin. She was working for Mercy Health System at the Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in June 2010 when she "left work because of illness," according to the Wisconsin board. She was later "found sitting in the lobby unresponsive." Her fellow doctors and nurses were quite worried.

They rushed her to the emergency room and gave her a CT scan. Maybe she had suffered a stroke? A concussion? Then they checked her blood and found the culprit: alcohol. And lots of it.

Had she been pulled over and tested by the police, they would have found seven times the legal limit for blood alcohol content.

The Wisconsin hospital, apparently not knowing that she had lost her license in North Dakota, gave her a second chance. It offered her the opportunity to seek counseling through the company's Employee Assistance Program.

Less than a month later, in July 2010, both a patient and a nurse reported that Peterson appeared to be drunk while working at the medical center, according to board documents. The board wrote:

A supervisor interviewed [Peterson] and she admitted she had been drinking alcohol. The supervisor concluded that [Peterson] was under the influence of alcohol based on [Peterson] being unsteady and drowsy, speaking slowly and sometimes incoherently and smelling of alcohol. [Peterson] was removed from the clinic and suspended from her employment.

George Hesselberg at the Wisconsin State Journal reported in early October 2010 that the Wisconsin board had let the notice from the North Dakota board slip through the cracks.

"An oversight occurred in not responding to notices received from North Dakota regarding its action against Dr. Peterson's license," David Carlson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing told Hesselberg. "We have put new safeguards in place to ensure these reports receive our prompt attention."

Final question: Why should the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners have one standard for promptly notifying other medical boards and a different standard for promptly notifying the public? We are nearing the end of our tour of state medical boards, and North Dakota now stands in a very small club of medical boards that refuse to make disciplinary records available online.

Remember, a patient noticed that Peterson was drunk at work in Wisconsin. Patients should not have to rely on other patients to monitor whether their doctors are fit to practice. Patients should not have to be the ones to alert the public when a doctor is unfit to practice. That's the medical board's job.

View this doctor, and others, on the Doctors Behaving Badly Google map.

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