Doctor Update: Maine psychiatrist on probation after patient suicide

Published on
March 15, 2016

Do not underestimate the power of a mother on a mission.

Last year, Elizabeth Marquis contacted me with a question: What did I know about Dr. Reinaldo de los Heros?

Marquis’ daughter, Kelly Deyo, had just died from an apparent suicide, an overdose of prescription medications. Marquis thought Deyo’s psychiatrist, de los Heros, was partly to blame.

“When the Westbrook Police arrived at the apartment, they found Kelly dead on the bed with 19 mostly empty prescription bottles all written by this one doctor between the dates of March 10, 2015, and April 13, 2015,” Marquis told me.

Deyo, 39, had struggled with drug addiction for much of her adult life, and Marquis thought that no physician should have prescribed her addictive medications.

I told Marquis what I always tell people who ask me about physicians with checkered pasts, “There’s a paper trail there, but it won’t be easy to find.”

I told her how I had done the reporting for my Doctors Behaving Badly piece in 2010, in which I wrote:

If Dr. Reinaldo de los Heros were a cat, he would have run out of lives. But, thanks to accommodating medical boards up and down the East Coast, de los Heros has survived and thrived. Here is a short guide to his fascinating history.

De los Heros has a track record with the Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Massachusetts medical boards. Anyone interested in him can check to see if those boards have any more recent information about him. They can also check local court databases and check the federal court database, too.

Kelly Deyo died in 2015 after overdosing on prescription medications. Her mother believes her psychiatrist is partly to blame.

Kelly Deyo died in 2015 after overdosing on prescription medications. Her mother believes her psychiatrist is partly to blame.

Marquis did all of that and more. She filed a formal complaint with the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine, handing over pharmacy records that showed an increase in prescriptions for addictive drugs after Deyo started being treated by de los Heros. She contacted reporters in Maine, too, sending them my previous story and the fruits of her own sleuthing.

In February, her efforts led to the Maine medical board placing de los Heros on six months of probation for “inappropriate prescribing,” “incompetent practice,” and “unprofessional conduct,” according to the medical board records.

Six months is not a very long time, of course, and the probation does not actually prevent de los Heros from practicing. It does require him to practice while being monitored, an experience he has already been through during one of his previous run-ins with medical boards.

After being contacted by Marquis, Joe Lawlor at the Portland Press Herald in Maine wrote last week about the case. Lawlor interviewed Tim Terranova, assistant executive director of the Maine medical licensing board, who said that six months might be just the beginning:

‘This is difficult for the physician, being on probation. It will be expensive for the doctor,’ Terranova said, noting that the board could keep de los Heros under supervision for longer than six months. ‘He very well could be under the watchful eye of another physician indefinitely,’ Terranova said.

De los Heros declined to be interviewed by the Press Herald but did provide this statement:

My thoughts and prayers go to the patient’s family during this difficult time. Mental illness and addiction-related deaths are at epidemic proportions in Maine, and this is another tragic example of a life taken too soon. Over the past 10 years in my psychiatric practice in Maine, I have worked tirelessly to help hundreds of patients receive diagnosis, treatment and healing for often complex psychiatric conditions. After my patient’s death, I worked closely with the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine to review the details of the case. I have been found fit to continue to provide care to patients.

That’s the part that irks patient safety advocates and medical ethics experts who were contacted by Lawlor for the story. Take note, reporters. Just because a medical board takes action, it doesn’t mean that the action is adequate. Call people who track these kinds of cases and ask them what’s typical, what’s good for patients, and what’s fair to the doctor, too.

Terranova told Lawlor that the board generally tries to judge each case in isolation, without reviewing a physician’s history. In de los Heros’ case, that’s a lot of history to ignore. So Lawlor called Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group for Public Citizen, which regularly reviews medical board practices nationally. Carome was unequivocal:

That is a ridiculous practice. … The board should be looking at patterns of behavior. Patterns of misconduct are important to consider when deciding if someone is a threat to the public.

If not for Marquis — a mom taking action after her daughter’s suicide — patients would have next to nothing to read about de los Heros’ history. Just a six-year-old blog post gathering digital dust.

[Photo by Michael Chen via Flickr. Deyo photo courtesy Elizabeth Marquis.]

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