In "Medical Board Director Quits Under Pressure" (Oct. 27) there are some inaccuracies, and some vital facts omitted about Ken Wagstaff's unfortunate departure from our board. The sub-headline, "Criticism centered on his handling of disciplinary actions against doctors" is unfortunate, because it implies that's why he is leaving. This is flatly not the case. His removal is due simply to a political decision by the governor's staff to put someone of their own choosing into this job.
The article also says Wagstaff has personally been "controversial" and a "frequent target of criticism." Again, false. Certainly, the complex and lengthy process of physician discipline has been frequently criticized. He has been called upon to explain it, often to unsympathetic ears. But no one has ever questioned his personal competence or integrity. As for "lax" disciplinary actions, these are board decisions, never his.
It's news to us that board members have been "divided in their opinions of his performance." Actually, at the last board meeting, Wagstaff received a unanimous vote of confidence. The Administration has been pushing members to allow Wagstaff's replacement by a political appointee.
This is regrettable, because the Medical Board has never before been politicized in its 91-year history. The board has always chosen its director on the basis of merit.
Investigations, legal arguments and decision-making by the board are certainly too time-consuming and have often had backlogs. As an administrator, Wagstaff cannot intervene directly. He has, however, successfully centralized complaint handling and case evaluation, more than doubled the number of the board's field investigators, installed a toll-free complaint line for the public, and advocated legislative enactment of a variety of reforms to strengthen the board's powers. The creation of a specialized unit of medical prosecutors in the attorney general's office was his idea.
The "source of concern" expressed to your reporter by the Department of Consumer Affairs has really been our board's strong refusal to be absorbed into an inefficient and stumbling bureaucracy.
Member and Past President
Medical Board of California