Medical board missteps echo around California

Published on
February 5, 2010

There was a collective cry of alarm this week to news that the Medical Board of California had mishandled the case of a physician accused of negligence in the abortion-related death of a patient.

I wrote about the Dr. Andrew Rutland case on Tuesday, detailing how the medical board had appointed a doctor who had been disciplined by the board to oversee Rutland, in violation of the board's own policies. Here is what happened next:

On Tuesday afternoon, Courtney Perkes at the Orange County Register published a story "Troubled doctor's monitor had also been disciplined." Perkes summed up the case history of Rutland's practice monitor, Dr. Christopher C. Dotson, this way:

Dotson, 78, completed five years of probation in 2005, part of his settlement of negligence allegations stemming from a mother who bled to death after a Caesarean section and a separate case of a stillborn baby. The Register obtained Dotson's disciplinary records last week and asked the medical board on Jan. 27 why a previously disciplined doctor was allowed to serve as monitor. On Tuesday board spokeswoman Candis Cohen responded, saying probation staff had erred and Dotson has now been removed as Rutland's practice monitor. 

Scott Broussard, the father of the late Jillian Broussard, one of two babies who died in Rutland's care, told the Register:

"To me, that's unfathomable they would let that happen. It's a no-brainer that it was a stupid thing to do and that it was wrong."

On Wednesday, Lisa Girion at the Los Angeles Times published a story, "California Medical Board admits allowing troubled doctor to monitor another."

Girion credited Antidote with breaking the story. (I worked at the Times until May 2009.) She added a number of great details including the fact that Dotson didn't just settle a case in another abortion related death, as Antidote had reported, he settled a case for $1 million.

In 2007, Dotson and a second physician, Josepha Seletz, of Eve Surgical Center, agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of a mother of two, according to documents filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Julianne D'Angelo Fellmeth, director of the Center for Public Interest Law in San Diego, told the Times:

"It's fairly astonishing that the medical board would approve of a physician as a practice monitor who has had similar disciplinary problems." 

Fellmeth is intimately familiar with the board's inner workings. As a result of The Orange County Register series about the medical board that I co-wrote, Fellmeth was appointed as an independent auditor of the board. Her findings resulted in several serious reforms, including the elimination of the board's diversion program, which allowed physicians caught with drugs or alcohol to seek treatment without penalty.

Also on Wednesday, Christina Jewett at California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, published a story, "Medical board allows one reprimanded doctor to supervise another."

Jewett also credited Antidote. (I have never worked there. I guess she's just polite.) Her lead was the best of the bunch, mine included:

The California Medical Board appointed a doctor who lost his license after a patient died in childbirth to supervise a California physician who lost and regained his license after the death of two infants.

Candis Cohen, the medical board's public information officer, talked with Antidote about the lack of complete information about Dotson on the board's Web site. She rightly noted to Antidote on Thursday that Dotson's case history is all dated prior to 2000, and that one section of the board's Web site does say, "Please note that documents with an effective date prior to calendar year 2000 may not be available via the Web." When you pull up a physician's license information and click on the tab "Public Record Documents." It's worth noting that this caveat does not appear on the "Enforcement Public Document Search" page. And it seems to contradict the first thing that everyone sees when they click on the main tool for backgrounding a physician, the "Check Your Doctor" page:

In reviewing a physician's information, it is important to know what is and is not available from the Medical Board of California (Board) about physicians licensed by the State of California. The law provides that the following information IS public and would appear on a record under Public Disclosure if applicable to the physician:

If a physician has been disciplined or formally accused of wrongdoing by the Board.

No time limit is set for that information, unlike other areas, such as:

If a physician has been convicted of a felony reported to the Board after January 3, 1991.

If a physician has been convicted of a misdemeanor after January 1, 2007 that results in a disciplinary action or an accusation being filed by the Board, and the accusation is not subsequently withdrawn or dismissed.

After Antidote contacted the board, the board added one document to its Web site, the June 2000 order putting Dotson on probation.

Perhaps the strongest response came from Jillian Broussard's aunt, an emergency room technician in Florida, who wrote to Antidote:

The overall corruption of the California Medical Board has been a weeping sore on the state's backside for as long as I can remember.  This latest revelation just trots up nicely to illustrate it.  Once again, the Medical Board has put its collective cigarette out on innocent people's skin. My tolerance bar is set pretty high after all this time in the ER, but they have cleared it in street shoes. The right thing to do, in my limited awareness, is for them to revoke Rutland's license for life, put him in jail and take his mirror image with him – quickly followed by each and every staff member of the Medical Board resigning.  I don't know anyone in the state with the set to fire them.  Can they be fired?  All those things would require courage, backbone and integrity.  Right now, I imagine greater than half of them would have to look those words up. 

Related posts:

Doctor appointed as medical board supervisor had been disciplined in New York, California

California governor and medical board should stand accused in patient's death

Doctors with addictions left hanging as diversion program dies