RegulatingDoctors 3rdLd-Writethru 04-02
Kansas’ medical board’s executive director resigns amid criticism of ’pill mill’ doctor case
Eds: Adds comment from legislator, background.
By JOHN HANNA
Associated Press Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of the state’s medical board and its general counsel announced their resignations Wednesday amid criticism that the agency mishandled cases, including that of a doctor accused of running a "pill mill" linked to 56 deaths.
Legislators have pressed for Executive Director Larry Buening to be fired, saying the Board of Healing Arts was too slow in investigating allegations of misconduct against physicians and too lax in its punishments.
The most recent was the case of Stephen Schneider, who is jailed without bond and faces 34 federal charges, including four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death. He has proclaimed his innocence.
Schneider’s medical license was not suspended until January, a month after a federal grand jury indicted him. That was one reason both chambers of the Legislature adopted resolutions within the past week calling for changes at the board.
Buening joined the board’s staff as an attorney in 1984 and became its executive director in 1992. He said he plans to step down July 1 to ensure the board’s chances of getting legislation passed to improve its oversight of physicians and to reassure legislators that changes will occur.
The board is pursuing a bill designed to allow it to address allegations of poor medical care more quickly. The measure is before the Senate.
The board held a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the Legislature’s resolutions. A few hours later, the board announced the departure of General Counsel Mark Stafford, effective June 1.
"The board has been burdened with a very difficult task," Stafford wrote in his resignation letter. "I will not add to that burden by forcing a decision on whether I should be retained as counsel."
Stafford, who joined the board’s staff in 1994 as its general counsel, declined to comment Wednesday.
Stafford has said cases seem 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.
Legislators who had been critical of the board called the resignations a positive step. And Sen. Susan Wagle, chairwoman of a committee that reviewed the board’s proposals, said senators will be comfortable in considering them now.
"It’s regrettable that we had to take such strong action to get some needed changes," said Wagle, a Wichita Republican and a vocal critic of the board.
Board members complained that they and their staff had been unfairly portrayed by legislative critics and in news accounts about cases. Board member Sue Ice said people have ignored hundreds of successful disciplinary investigations.
"There aren’t doctors to burn in Kansas," Ice said. "We make every attempt to rehabilitate those who can be. Our last resort is to take a license away."