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Wyoming opens arms to doc on the run from criminal past

Wyoming opens arms to doc on the run from criminal past

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State medical boards are Ellis Islands for doctors.

Doctors licensed in another state or fresh out of medical school have to pass muster with the board before being allowed to see patients in that state. If they have a history of problems in other states, the medical board can tell them to look for work elsewhere. One of the most common reasons states cite for disciplining a doctor, in Antidote's experience, is discipline by another state.

This is what makes cases like Dr. Joseph S. Sappington's so curious. While state boards are happy to discipline a doctor after the fact, they always seem reluctant to say "no" when a doctor asks for a license.

Sappington arrived at his Ellis Island in Wyoming in 2009 with about as much bad baggage as any doctor could possibly carry. Look at this list provided by the Wyoming Board of Medicine: a criminal history of driving under the influence, "a medical condition which impairs or limits his ability to safely and skillfully practice medicine," a substance abuse problem, action taken against him by former employers, investigations by health care organizations, and denial of licensure or privileges in other states.

Wow.

Like someone who showed up at Ellis Island with a criminal history, Sappington may have expected he would be turned away. Instead, Wyoming welcomed him with open arms. The board did set some conditions, though. It said that Sappington had to enroll in the "Wyoming Professional Assistance Program" for five years.

Fans of Antidote probably know how this story ends.

Not long after being granted a license, Sappington was in trouble again. Two patients complained about his prescribing practices. While investigating those complaints, the board found out that Sappington had been placed on leave by his employer, Wyoming Behavioral Institute, in June 2010. The board investigators asked for more information, and Sappington said, according to the board, "that he was dealing with ‘sexual integrity issues' and was going into treatment for the same."

More shoes dropped. Sappington also was abusing Concerta, a drug commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder that is also a popular upper for people looking for a quick high.

After a lot of questions from the board, Sappington decided to give up. He sent an email to the board in October 2010 saying he wanted to voluntarily surrender his license. The board made it official a few days later.

Final question: Does Wyoming make Sappington's history available to the public on its website? No. Unlike neighboring Montana and, to a lesser extent, Idaho, Wyoming skimps on public disclosure.

 A search of Sappington's name in the board's database yields this odd sentence in the category of "Disciplinary Actions": "A review of public records indicates that final disciplinary orders have been entered." Is this a note from one clerk at the board to another clerk? After "Disciplinary Summary" it says, "License granted with Stipulation with Restrictions and Conditions. Licensee must enroll in the WPAP for 5 years due to substance abuse issues. Board accepted Voluntary Relinquishment of Dr. Sappington's license on October 23, 2010. A copy of the order can be obtained by contacting the Board." There is no indication of how to contact the board or who to contact.

Antidote eventually persuaded Connie J. Schepp, the board's compliance specialist and investigator, to email us the records. The public, though, should not have to jump through so many hoops to find out basic information about a doctor who arrived at Wyoming's gate with a satchel full of red flags.

Jenn Harris contributed to this report.

View this doctor on the Doctors Behaving Badly Google map For more Doctors Behaving Badly posts, click here.

 

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