LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - A flawed system that allows bad doctors to keep practicing in Michigan needs fixing, state senators said Tuesday in response to a Target 8 investigation.
Target 8 in February exposed how an apparent conflict of interest allowed Muskegon abortion clinic Dr. Robert Alexander to continue to practice after complaints against him were not investigated.
Those complaints -- about alleged botched abortions -- were closed out by the then state Board of Medicine Chairman Dr. George Shade. It was the same Dr. Shade who, several years earlier, helped Alexander get his medical license back after Alexander had served time in prison for selling illegal prescriptions.
On Tuesday, the state Senate Judiciary Committee projected Target 8's story onto a wall of a hearing room for senators to watch.
Committee members said the report raised serious questions about a conflict of interest and about how the state Board of Medicine and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) polices doctors.
"When you have a case like this go out there, it puts them all under a cloud so to speak," Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) said. "It also puts the whole system under the cloud. It looks like a good old boy network."
It could lead to a law requiring more than one member of the Board of Medicine review complaints against medical professionals.
"I definitely think there has to be sweeping changes," said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton), who pushed for Tuesday's hearing.
The Target 8 investigation prompted the Judiciary Committee to take a wider look at how the state polices doctors. That raised other questions -- such as why the state relies on medical professionals to report themselves to the Board of Medicine after they are convicted of a crime, and whether it's too easy for convicted doctors to get their medical licenses back.
Judiciary Chairman Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) pointed to the case of a dentist who is still practicing despite a conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting a patient.
"I have a list of pharmacists who are incarcerated and still have a valid license," Jones said.
Carole Engle, director of LARA's Health Care Services, acknowledged what she called "minor flaws" and said the state needs a better way of learning about convictions. Still, she defended the system, saying it already has conflict of interest policy.
"There are probably lots of small things that could be fixed in Public Health Code, but I think opening up the entire code is not the best idea," Engle said. "In the vast majority of cases, the process does work very well."
But the Judiciary Committee said that wasn't enough, especially after Engle told them that the new chairman of the Board of Medicine, Richard E. Burney, of Ann Arbor, refused to re-open the investigation into Dr. Alexander.
"Wow," Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, responded. "Unbelievable. Unbelievable."
"Please convey to that board chairman that that inaction, that shocking lack of caring, is going to lead to legislation," Jones continued.
The City of Muskegon shut down Alexander's clinic in December after finding what it called unsafe and unsanitary conditions. It's not clear whether Alexander is still practicing. His license is still valid.
A Muskegon OB/GYN was expected to testify at Tuesday's hearing. Instead, through an email read by Schuitmaker, he urged the state to revoke Alexander's license. The OB/GYN wrote that he has treated several of Alexander's patients in the ER.
In one case, he wrote, Alexander performed an abortion on a woman in her second trimester.
"Dr. Alexander perforated the woman's uterus so badly that it was hanging on by two blood vessels," he wrote. "The decapitated head of a fetus was in the woman's abdomen and the large intestine had been grasped and pulled away from its blood supply and into the vagina. The woman required a hysterectomy, colonoscopy and several units of blood to save her life.
"I for one, was very happy to hear he is no longer practicing in Muskegon, but I fear for women anywhere this man would go."
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