Docs: Former doctor had sordid out-of-state history

Target 8
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids doctor facing prison on claims he exchanged opioid prescriptions for drugs and cash has a history of questionable-if-not-criminal behavior that spans more than two decades. 

Target 8 obtained documents from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs on Richard Piazza. He was indicted earlier this year and since surrendered his license and was fined $1,000. 

Someone searching Piazza’s history online can find he was previously disciplined in Kansas, California and Iowa in a matter of minutes, so how did he get approved to practice in Michigan in 2008?

A representative for LARA told Target 8 every license application is run through the National Practitioner Data Bank. It’s a database run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that monitors practicing physicians throughout the country. 

“Currently, LARA reviews all sister state actions and conducts a criminal background check of an individual upon initial licensure. In cases where there are previous criminal and/or sister state actions, LARA reviews the nature of the regulatory actions and penalties before making a determination for licensure in Michigan. With regards to Piazza, given that this application was submitted and reviewed for licensure approximately 11 years ago, LARA cannot speculate on the rationale that led to Piazza’s licensure in Michigan,” a statement from LARA read.

Target 8 asked if it’s possible out-of-state records may not have been as accessible more than a decade ago.

“We are aware that sister state information was available back then, but because it was more than a decade ago, we cannot speculate as to how it may have been reviewed and the decision-making process that led to issuing the license,” a LARA representative responded.

LONG HISTORY OF DISCIPLINE

Piazza managed to fly under the radar the majority of his Michigan tenure, but records show he detailed his sordid career as early as 2014.

The documents are from an application Piazza submitted to Physician’s Health Plan of Mid-Michigan in 2014. He had to include a detailed history of his previous employment. 

Not everything would amount to criminal activity, but the information points to irresponsible conduct most would deem unprofessional for a licensed doctor.

Records show the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency first investigated Piazza while living in Kansas between late 1994 and January1995. 

“There was a claim that I was possibly involved in the practice of chronic pain,” Piazza explained in the document Target 8 obtained from LARA. “I had given eight patients, two narcotics on the same visit for the same diagnosis… unknown to me this was not legal…”

Piazza said he voluntarily surrendered his license for some time in Kansas, which also led to reprimands and fines related to his licenses in Iowa and California.

In November 2000, according to documents, Piazza paid more than $900 in a malpractice settlement after he sent police to the wrong residence for a patient threatening suicide.

“I had a patient call stating suicidal thoughts. I had two patients same name send police both, they broke door of wrong person,” Piazza wrote, adding that the wrong person filed a claim against him and the hospital he was working for at the time.

“I did what was correct to do in this case, I can’t believe somebody did not ask me for a check for $917.03,” the narrative went on to say.

Piazza was again accused of malpractice in 2005. An elderly patient fell and died after Piazza recommended she stop taking Coumadin, which prevents blood clots, before a surgery.

His explanation in documents said the authorization was for a surgery that had already been completed. The fall happened before a second surgery that followed the same guidelines set by a different doctor, Piazza explained. 

The claim was ultimately dismissed.

His work history also noted Piazza was sometimes slow to ensure his malpractice insurance and license information was up to date for employers. It also explained a lapse in employment from May 2011 to July 2011 as involuntary. Piazza wrote he unintentionally used an outdated prescription pad connected to a prison he practiced at for someone who was not an inmate.

It was for Lamisil, which treats athlete’s foot.

In addition to his own narrative, former employers gave PHP an evaluation as part of Piazza’s application.

“Had difficulty setting boundaries with patients. He is a maverick thoroughbred — can’t corral him. Personal life issues intruded on practice,” one former boss wrote. 

She also noted he was “compassionate” and “patients “loved him”, but she terminated his contract and would likely not rehire him in the future.

Four other documents released by LARA were completely redacted. They were among Piazza’s PHP application documents.

PHP ultimately denied Piazza’s application. Documents show a complaint was then filed with LARA in November 2014 related to the denial, citing negligence and incompetence. 

Despite PHP turning over all application materials to LARA through subpoena, the department’s Board Review Panel determined no investigation was needed.

“Licensee did not appeal that [insurance company] didn’t think he met credentials,” the reviewer scribbled as an explanation for feeling no investigation was needed. 

When asked for clarification on that process, a LARA representative wrote the board tries “to determine that — if the allegation were true — would it be a violation of the Public Health Code? If not, they don’t approve for investigation. If so, they approve for investigation.”

LARA notified Piazza he was cleared from the allegation in February 2015. The following month is when Amy Schultz joined Sheridan Community Hospital’s Stanton clinic. She told Target 8 she reported Piazza’s behavior almost immediately and was ignored by hospital administration.

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