STANTON, Mich. (WOOD) — A former doctor charged with exchanging opioid prescriptions for cash and drugs had a history of bad behavior well before he faced prison time, according to a former colleague who worked with him in Montcalm County.
A judge approved a competency exam for Richard Piazza Thursday. He faces federal felonies for allegedly writing thousands of bad prescriptions for opioids.
He worked for Sheridan Community Hospital before practicing in Grand Rapids. Documents obtained from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs show he began working for the hospital’s Edmore clinic in January 2013. He later moved to the Stanton clinic, though there are conflicting transfer dates in the documents.
By the time Piazza marked two years with Sheridan Community Hospital, Amy Schultz has been working within the network for more than a decade. In March 2015, she began running the front desk at the Stanton clinic, where Piazza was a physician.
Schultz contacted Target 8 after watching a report on Piazza’s criminal charges in February of this year.
“I had not been here a month when I reported the first incident,” Schultz told Target 8. “It was almost immediately things started happening that just I know aren’t right.”
She recalled Piazza leaving prescriptions at the front desk to pass to people who weren’t patients, giving his then-wife a key to the office and meeting people at the clinic after hours.
“When I reported that he’s bringing unauthorized people into the office after hours, we’re finding med cupboards opened, (prescription) pads are missing, they didn’t care. They just ignored me,” Schultz said.
Schultz alleges one complaint she made shortly after she began working with Piazza resulted in a phone call with Sheridan Community Hospital CEO Randy Flechsig. She felt deterred from filing anything formal against Piazza.
Target 8 spoke to Flechsig by phone Thursday.
“I certainly can’t recall that call, but I can tell you if I was on a call and someone was reporting something, we would follow up,” he responded when questioned about the allegations raised by Schultz. “I am confident and comfortable that had it risen to a level within the organization of concern, we would’ve addressed it.”
He also said the hospital conducted an internal investigation on Piazza in the fall of 2015 that could not substantiate suspicions.
But the paper trail Schultz kept that detailed Piazza’s behavior extends beyond that time frame. She was apprehensive in sharing all of her documents with Target 8 because of private information involving patients.
What she did show included emails to Kim Christensen, who was head of risk management for the hospital at the time, describing times she saw Piazza at the clinic after closing. Those were sent December 2015.
Schultz also kept an online record of prescriptions Piazza wrote for someone who was not a patient in January 2016. The record included an order for 60 tablets of hydrocodone written three hours after the clinic closed.
“You could report it to admin over and over and over and they didn’t, they didn’t seem to care,” Schultz said.
Target 8 sent some of the documents for Flechsig to review Thursday afternoon. The CEO did not respond by evening.
Earlier in the day, he said he couldn’t discuss what led to Piazza leaving the clinic in March 2016, though a resume included in documents obtained from LARA show Piazza said he left after a contract dispute.
A few months after his departure, Stanton employees were told the clinic would be closing.
“I tried to just hang in there and think, they’re coming. Help is coming. There’s things going on behind the scenes I don’t know about and that was not the case,” Schultz lamented. “There were things going on behind the scene, but you know how hindsight is 20/20? I think (the closure) is what was going on. I think he knew he’ll shut the place down and then I’ll have to shut up.”
At the time, a position Schultz had with the hospital previously was open, so she asked to transfer back to it once the clinic closed permanently.
“They told me I was not qualified and they wouldn’t keep me,” Schultz recalled. “I was at the hospital for almost 15 years. I’ve done all those different jobs. All I did was try to say, ‘This is not right, what’s happening here.’ And I feel like I was punished for it.”
Flechsig attributed the closure to organizational restructuring.