Kansas Senate Calls for Staff Changes on Board that Regulates Docs

April 2, 2008

The state board that regulates doctors will hold a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a Senate resolution calling on the board to fire some of its staff.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said legislators and the Board of Healing Arts may need to increase consumers’ involvement in regulating doctors and to speed up investigations of alleged wrongdoing. But she also said she has confidence in the board and its staff.

Many legislators believe the board is too lenient with physicians accused of misconduct and takes too long to investigate cases. The Senate resolution, adopted unanimously Friday, suggested the public has lost confidence in the board’s oversight.

The House plans to consider its own resolution before the board meets, but it will not call specifically for personnel changes, said Rep. Jeff Colyer, an Overland Park Republican and surgeon who is helping draft the measure.

The board has scheduled a meeting for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, and its agenda says it will discuss the resolution and recent media coverage of the issue.

“We don’t take our responsibilities lightly on the board. I felt like we needed to meet, to issue a response,” said board President Betty McBride, who called the meeting. “There will be a response.”

McBride said the board still has confidence in its staff.

“Our staff has been very loyal to us and has always done the work we’ve required of them,” she said.

Larry Buening, the board’s executive director and one of the targets of the Senate resolution, declined to comment. He said the legislative action is directed at the board, and it should respond.

Asked whether the resolutions would lead him to submit his resignation, Buening responded: “At this point, I have not submitted anything.”

Sebelius, who appoints all 15 board members, said she would welcome a discussion about improving its operations before legislators end their annual session in early May. She also suggested examining other states’ best practices.

But she added: “I have confidence in the board members and in the staff who they have employed to carry out their assignments within the current structure.”

The Senate resolution was partly a response to the case of Stephen Schneider, a Haysville physician who faces 34 federal criminal charges. Prosecutors allege that he and his wife, a nurse, ran a “pill mill” linked to at least 56 overdose deaths. Schneider’s license was suspended in January, a month after the federal indictment was filed.

In recent weeks, legislators have cited several other cases. They include a Kansas City, Kan., abortion provider who lost his license in 2005, five years after he was first disciplined. Another case involved a physician who obtained a Kansas license in 1990 despite a sexual battery conviction in Ohio. That doctor later went to prison for stalking and harassing patients at a Wichita hospital.

A legislative audit in 2006 said the board let some cases drag out and noted that 14 percent of them had been open three years or longer. Last year, a national advocacy group ranked the Kansas board 36th among state regulatory boards.

“We think that the agency’s inefficient and not getting the job done,” said Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “There appear to be problems in the legal department.”

Wagle pushed the resolution and said Friday that the message to the board was clear: “Clean house and get the agency functional again.”

As for the board’s special meeting to respond to the resolution, Wagle said Monday, “They can’t ignore it. It was 40 to nothing.”

She also was upset by Sebelius’ defense of the board’s staff, saying she is “standing alone.”

“The evidence is more than clear that the agency is incompetent, and for the governor to be defending them and protecting them is outrageous,” she said.

Colyer said the House resolution will call on the board to make all necessary changes to restore public confidence in its oversight. He said that could include personnel changes.

“The point of this is good management,” he said.

“I think there’s some sentiment that there should be some personnel changes, unfortunately,” he said. “There are lot of changes that need to happen, and we have confidence that the board can achieve some of those.”

Mark Stafford, the board’s general counsel, has said cases involving errant doctors seem to outsiders to drag on because Kansas law gives doctors a property-rights interest in their licenses. That requires exhaustive evidence to justify sanctions, he has said.

But Wagle and other legislators see the Schneider case as evidence of serious problems at the board. The federal indictment alleges Schneider and his wife were directly responsible for four deaths and contributed to 11 others.

The board began proceedings against him in 2006 but put the case on hold for 11 months. The board’s staff has said federal prosecutors asked them to do so, but federal prosecutors contend they made no such request and have said some complaints about Schneider go back to 1995.

An administrative hearing officer suspended Schneider’s license in January while the board considers whether to revoke it.

The Legislature can’t force an administrative agency to make staff changes, and it’s highly unusual for lawmakers to adopt a resolution calling for it.

Wagle and other legislators also acknowledge the board is limited in what staff changes it can make because all but six of its 41 employees are part of the state’s civil service system.

The six who are not include Buening; Stafford; two other attorneys with key roles in handling disciplinary cases; an executive assistant; and a licensing administrator.

On the House side
The Kansas House adopted a resolution on April 1st calling on the Board of Healing Arts to make changes promptly to restore public confidence in its oversight. The action came on a unanimous voice vote.

The Senate adopted a similar resolution last week, also unanimously.

The Senate’s measure called specifically for personnel changes. The House’s did not.

But its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Colyer, an Overland Park Republican, said staff changes need to occur. Like many senators, he believe the board should fire its executive director and chief counsel.

But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says she has confidence in the board and its staff.

State Board of Healing Arts: http://www.ksbha.org/

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