Thursday, May 1, 2014
San Diego (May 1, 2014) – Today 10News investigator Melissa Mecija interviewed Julianne D’Angelo Fellmeth, the administrative director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law, about a recent effort by the California Medical Association (CMA) to reinstate a confidential substance abuse diversion program, the very program Fellmeth helped shut down in 2008.
The program would allow medical doctors to continue to practice while they seek confidential treatment for substance abuse issues, possibly endangering the lives of their patients.
Tina Minasian said during a state hearing on April 29 that she was a victim of a doctor with an alcohol problem.
Minasian sought the skills of plastic surgeon for a tummy tuck. What she didn’t know was that the surgeon, Dr. Brian West, had been arrested and convicted twice for drunken driving, in one instance when he was driving to the hospital to check on a patient.
West entered the Medical Board of California's (MBC) diversion program in 2001 after his second DUI conviction and was allowed to continue his practice while participating. He performed Minasian’s surgery in December 2002. That surgery left her infected, disfigured and scarred for life. Minasian said specialists later told her she should never have been considered a candidate for that type of surgery in the first place.
"He was at his all time high with his alcohol problem and the medical board was trying to revoke his license, but I didn't know any of this," said Minasian. "He was in a secret and dangerous program called diversion."
Assembly Bill 2346, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), would authorize the MBC to create a voluntary and confidential program to help doctors with substance abuse, the same type of program USD's Julianne Fellmeth worked for 20 years to close.
"A substance abusing doctor is probably the most dangerous doctor out there, and they should not be allowed to divert themselves into a private, secret monitoring program," said Fellmeth in the news story.
Fellmeth opposes the bill. She said patients have a right to know if their doctor is seeking help for drugs or alcohol.
"The bill contains absolutely no safeguard for patients," Fellmeth said.
Gonzalez argued there needs to be a program in place to help physicians.
"We have it for attorneys, we have it for pharmacists, we have it for dentists," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense because a program was not working years ago... that we're not going to have a program for doctors in the state."
Gonzalez said she will not change the confidentiality portion of the proposed program but will work with opponents to create a strong bill.
The bill heads next to the Appropriations Committee.
Watch the full news story on 10news.com.
Read USD's Advocate magazine article about the previous diversion program, “DUI: Doctors Under the Influence,” online (page 33).
About Julianne D’Angelo Fellmeth
Julie D'Angelo Fellmeth serves as administrative director of the Center for Public Interest Law at USD School of Law and editor of the California Regulatory Law Reporter. She supervises CPIL's student intern program, team-teaches regulatory law courses with Professor Robert C. Fellmeth, and assists law students in their monitoring of agencies and drafting of articles for the California Regulatory Law Reporter.
About the University of San Diego School of Law
Celebrating 60 years of alumni success, the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law is recognized for the excellence of its faculty, depth of its curriculum, and strength of its clinical programs. Each year, USD educates approximately 900 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world. The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest and taxation.
USD School of Law is one of the 81 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates. The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 23rd worldwide in all-time faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, nonprofit, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.