Critics Call Medical Board 'Too Lenient'

Critics Call Medical Board 'Too Lenient'

CREATED Feb 22, 2007

What if you discovered your doctor had spent time in prison for stalking another doctor and possessing a highly toxic poison.

A NewsChannel 5 investigation has found doctors with secrets.

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found the state knows all about them and is still letting them practice medicine.

Kristi Wilson remembers it like it was yesterday and how she once she spotted the man crouched between two cars in the Vanderbilt Hospital parking lot, she knew something wasn't right.

"He looked like he had a wig. It was just really bizarre," Wilson says.

And what made it even more bizarre was that he was a doctor, wearing a wig and a fake beard and that he had fake ID, a giant syringe, and was stalking another doctor, his former boss at Vanderbilt.

Later, investigators discovered he had a stockpile of the deadly poison, ricin.

Judge William Faimon said at the time of the doctor's arrest back in September of 1995, "We have a man who probably has a brilliant mind that's somehow gone awry."

Now, 12 years later, that same doctor, Ray Mettetal, wants to return to medicine.

He told the state Board of Medical Examiners at its last meeting, "I take no psychiatric medication."

And about his future plans, Mettetal said, "If there's a neurosurgeon who wants a neurosurgeon assistant."

When Kristi Wilson -- the former Vandy nurse who first spotted Mettetal in the parking garage and alerted authorities -- heard that, her reaction was, "Oh, my goodness. That's kind of scary."

But she says what's even scarier is what happened when Mettetal went before the Board of Medical Examiners last month and asked to have his medical license back.

Mettetal told the board, "I've had ten years of post graduate residency training."

Mettetal's license was suspended after he was convicted of having the poison and fake IDs.

He then spent more than seven years in prison, until a federal appeals court threw out the search warrant that led to his conviction.

At the board meeting, one member asked Mettetal, "How long since you practiced medicine?"

And Mettetal admitted that he hasn't practiced in more than 12 years.

But no board member ever questioned whether Mettetal should be a doctor again.

No board member asked to discuss it.

And not one board member voted against reinstating Mettetal's license.

Brian McGuire with the AARP says, "The fact is, there are times when you just have to say, 'No, you can't practice here anymore.'"

What worries McGuire is what he sees as an overall reluctance by the Medical Board to crack down on questionable doctors.

"People are being given every reason to believe that their physician is perfectly competent and providing quality care, when, in fact, we know that's not the case," McGuire adds.

In fact, a 2003 state audit also found the Board "too lenient" when it came to disciplining doctors, especially the report said when "the safety of the public is at risk."

McGuire says,"What it says to me is that the people that are responsible for protecting us aren't doing their job."

Dr. Jeffery Seitzinger also went before the State Board at its last meeting.

He told the Board, "I am currently under a psychiatrist's care."

The plastic surgeon was also fined $20,000 by the Alabama Medical Board for unprofessional conduct, malpractice and negligence after he botched a surgery and then refused to see the patient. He also settled a malpractice lawsuit for a quarter of a million dollars.

"It was basically ego and laziness and just negligence on my part," Seitzinger told the board.

The plastic surgeon says he hasn't practiced medicine in nearly two years and when asked how he's kept his skills up to date, he told the board, "I do some amateur taxidermy.

But again, no one from the board challenged his request to have his license reinstated.

Dr. David Cunningham, the head of the Board, tells NewsChannel 5, "I think we're very fair."

He also insists the Board is looking out for Tennesseans. He says, "Do I think the Board protects them? Yes. Very much. Very strongly."

But Kristi Wilson says she wonders what the Board was thinking when it gave Mettetal his medical license back.

She says, "I think we all have reason to be a little concerned.

Now, we should point out that the Board doesn't automatically rubber stamp every request it gets.

At last month's meeting, the board did deny three out of 15 doctors' requests.

But, at the time time, they also allowed a doctor who repeatedly prescribed painkillers to people who didn't need them to return to medicine.

As far as Dr. Ray Mettetal, he had also been prohibited from practicing medicine in Virginia after his arrest.

But Virginia recently lifted the restrictions after he proved that he had received psychological treatment.

To check a doctor's license, disciplinary actions and physician profiles:
Tennessee Department of Health
Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure

See also the National Institute of Health's guide, "Choosing a Doctor of Health Care Service"

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