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Rehab program for doctors out

The president of the state medical board refuses to keep its confidential operation alive or to replace it.

January 25, 2008|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Doctors who abuse alcohol or drugs should no longer be allowed to enroll in a confidential, state-monitored rehabilitation program, the president of the Medical Board of California said at a summit Thursday.

In remarks to a group of 100 people, Dr. Richard Fantozzi signaled that he was in no mood to compromise with the California Medical Assn. and other physicians' groups, which have urged that substance-abusing doctors continue to be allowed to enroll in such a program.

Last summer, the medical board voted to end a 27-year-old program designed to divert drug- and alcohol-abusing doctors from public disciplinary action to a confidential arrangement in which physicians were monitored as they sought treatment for their addiction. The program is scheduled to end July 1.

A series of audits since the 1980s consistently has identified problems with the Physician Diversion Program, which was managed by the medical board, the state agency that licenses and disciplines doctors.

In the most recent report, published in June, state auditors found that the program did not always adhere to the requirement that a physician immediately stop practicing medicine after testing positive for alcohol or a prohibited drug.

The audit also found that during a five-month period in 2006, the program did not administer one-quarter of the drug tests that had been scheduled. It also faulted the medical board for ineffective oversight of the program.

"Abuse of the privilege of the program by some participants repeatedly put consumers at risk," Fantozzi said. "The public now demands transparency."

Some groups representing doctors urged the board to reconsider its stand and to set up an independent, not-for-profit entity essentially replacing the state's old diversion program.

Confidentiality is essential to encourage doctors to seek help before they harm a patient, said Dr. James Hay, an elected officer with the California Medical Assn.

Some patients urged the medical board to reject another diversion program.

"Doctors should be held to a higher standard," said Tina Minasian, who said she had been under the care of a doctor who abused alcohol.

As of July 1, doctors who are found to be abusing alcohol or drugs will be referred to the attorney general's office for disciplinary proceedings, which are made public.


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