Delays Let Accused Doctors Keep Practicing
They are doctors who the state says are doing wrong -- in some cases, outright malpractice.
But a NewsChannel 5 investigation has found some of those questionable doctors are still being allowed to keep practicing.
But the state says there's little it can do to stop them.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners is supposed to protect you from bad doctors --doctors who some say have no business practicing medicine, who are putting lives in danger.
"The fact is the system is failing," Brian McGuire of the AARP tells NewsChannel 5 consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus.
Consumer watchdog groups say too many of these bad doctors are allowed to keep on practicing because it often takes years for the board to take action against a doctor.
The president of the Board of Medical Examiners, Dr. David Cunningham, tells us, "It may take five years."
And even he admits something's wrong.
"The Board's sitting here knowing that bad doctors are out there, that they'd like to discipline, but we cannot go out and arrest them," Cunningham says.
He adds that the state just doesn't have enough investigators and attorneys to handle all of the cases.
"That's one of our biggest problems," Cunningham says.
Take, for example, Dr. Richard Feldman.
The Nashville diet doctor has been fined repeatedly by the Board over the years and is now accused of misconduct, fraud, malpractice, and ignoring state medical rules.
According to the state's own reports, with this latest case, the state began investigating Feldman back in 2005.
But the state didn't file charges against him until last summer.
Still, the Board won't begin hearing his case until this November.
"That's still ten months from now," Kraus tells Cunningham.
"And do you know why that is?" the head of the medical board responds.
"The same reason I just gave you -- the prosecutors don't have enough people to work every case."
But in the meantime, Feldman is allowed to continue to practice medicine and essentially do what the state contends is wrong.
"And there's nothing to stop him?" Kraus asks.
"The Board can't do anything about that," Cunningham insists.
Bill Mason with the consumer watchdog group Tennessee Citizen Action says that is "a danger to public health."
He says the state needs to do a better job.
"If you give someone a license, you're responsible to see that they're qualified to hold the license," Mason says.
But our investigation found it's not just the state, that the doctors themselves often play a hand in dragging out the process.
Dr. Joseph Rich has been sanctioned before by the Board for a pattern of negligence and incompetence.
Now, he's accused of illegally prescribing methadone to at least a dozen drug addicts, some of whom he treated back in 2002.
When questioned about it during his hearing, Dr. Rich answered, "This was in 2002. I don't know what happened four plus years ago."
Both during the hearing and later to NewsChannel 5, Dr. Rich complained that the process takes too long.
"At least in the normal legal system, you have your day," Rich tell Kraus. "It may be continued once or twice, but then it's done and it's over with."
But as it turns out, Rich and his attorney are the ones who have asked for at least several of the delays in this case which is now it its second year.
Brian McGuire with AARP says, "These should not drag on for years and years. They absolutely should not."
McGuire says with patients' lives on the line, this practice needs to be stopped.
"It is absolutely not acceptable whatsoever," he adds.
The head of the Medical Examiners Board tells NewsChannel 5 they did ask for more money several years ago to hire more attorneys and investigators, but were turned down.
And he says they've never asked again, despite their ongoing problems.
As far as why some of these hearings go on so long, it's because the Board only meets one or two days every other month.
And some of these more complicated cases take days and days to hear.
So, that's how these cases end up dragging out into the years.
See also the National Institute of Health's guide, "Choosing a Doctor of Health Care Service"