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For an agency with an annual budget of about $1 million, the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board has taken little initiative in protecting patients from therapists with histories of substance abuse, sexual abuse, billing issues and even practicing without a license.

That is the conclusion of an audit of the agency released this week by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office. (Read the full audit report HERE.)

The audit report also found that of 4,857 physical therapists licensed in Louisiana since 2010, fully 78.1 percent (3,791) had never undergone background checks as required by state law.

That’s because even though state law granted LPTB the authority to conduct background checks on new applicants in January 2010, the checks were not undertaken until January 2016—six years after the law went into effect.

During the fiscal years 2015 through 2019, the LPTB received 169 complaints containing 200 allegations that took an average of 120 days to resolve. LPTB, the audit noted, has never established timeframes for how long it should take to investigate complaints and to issue disciplinary actions. Investigation times ranged from one day to more than a year, the report said.

State law granted LPTB authority to conduct background checks on applicants upon initial licensures in January 2010 but did not begin actually conducting the checks until January 2016. “As a result, as of October 2019, 3,791 (78.1 percent) of 4,857 current licensees who were licensed prior to January 2016 did not receive background checks,” the audit report said.

Moreover, LPTB “is not required to inquire of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) prior to issuing or renewing licenses, so it may be making decisions without important disciplinary information on potential applicants from other states,” it said.

LPTB failed to report all adverse actions to the NPDB in fiscal years 2015 through 2019 as required by federal regulations, the audit said. “We found that LPTB did not report 29.7 percent (27 of 91 actions issued involving 46 licensees to the NPDB within 30 days,” auditors said.

“LPTB took an average of 222 days to report these 27 actions…ranging from 42 days to more than two years. The nature of these cases included sexual misconduct, substance abuse, criminal convictions, and fraud.

Auditors suggested possible a legislative remedy to at least one shortcoming. Because current procedures allow for background checks on only new applicants, the report said, “The legislature may wish to consider amending (state law) to require LPTB to conduct background checks on all applicants, including renewing applicants and reinstatements.”

 

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There was an interesting contrast between Donald Trump’s visits to Monroe on Nov. 4 and Bossier City 10 days later.

In Monroe, Trump endorsed challenger Robert Mills in a state senate race 100 miles to the west, as reported by, among others, THE HAYRIDE, one of the state’s principal cheerleaders for Eddie Rispone and Trump. (That was the same rally, by the way, in which Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin violated state law that prohibits the secretary of state from participating in any partisan campaign other than for his own election by ENDORSING Rispone for governor.)

Mills is seeking to unseat incumbent Ryan Gatti in Senate District 36, which encompasses all of Webster Parish and parts of Bienville, Bossier and Claiborne parishes. Both men are Republicans but Gatti has offended the Republican hierarchy with his non-partisan voting record in the House and by supporting some of the programs of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.

Around the same time that Trump was endorsing Mills in that Monroe appearance, Monroe radio personality Moon Griffon got Gatti squarely in his crosshairs, posting on FACEBOOK a copy of an invitation issued by Gatti for a luncheon hosted at his home at which Edwards would be the “special guest.”

Griffon, falling in line with Trump, Rispone, and The Hayride, obediently LAMBASTED Gatti on his radio show (to listen, go to the 10-minute mark of the link).

So far, so good. Everyone is in lockstep. Trump, Rispone, Griffon, The Hayride, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, LABI (Mills actually sat on the board of NORTH-PAC, one of LABI’s four directional political action committees).

Until last night, that is. When Trump appeared in Bossier Thursday night, he was smack dab in the middle of District 36 and in the perfect position to again throw his support behind Mills.

In fact, The Hayride on Monday of this week said, “It’ll get even worse when Trump repeats the (Monroe) performance in Bossier City Thursday, at which (time) the president will repeat his endorsement of Mills over Gatti inside of District 36 itself.”

Except he didn’t.

Conspicuously absent in Trump’s Bossier City rally last night was any mention of Mills.

None. Zip. Nada.

Could Ashley Madison have played a role in Trump’s decision not to call for the election of Mills?

LouisianaVoice on Oct. 31 had a STORY that Mills’s name had appeared on the Ashley Madison web page, the online dating service designed specifically for married people seeking a discreet extra-marital affair.

Oops.

So much for the presidential endorsement on the candidate’s home turf.

The absurdity of it all has prompted one lifelong Republican to observe, “This is the craziest election I’ve ever seen. Mike Johnson is behind all of it. (He’s a) fake Christian conservative hatchet man. I just voted for my first Democrat ever.”

 

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Mike Edmonson, a veteran of 35 years with Louisiana State Police (LSP) and nine years as the state’s top cop, is reported to have been named Program Administrator for Police Patrol by the New Orleans French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report on Tuesday that Edmonson, who retired at $128,559 per year after being forced out in March 2017, had been named to the post, advertised by the FQMD earlier this year.

An LSP spokesman said he had heard similar reports but could not confirm them.

Prior to making that request, LouisianaVoice attempted to obtain verbal confirmation from the New Orleans municipal offices but it took six calls to various offices before anyone even answered the phone.

Efforts to confirm the appointment and the salary of the position with the New Orleans mayor’s office by email met with referrals of all public records requests to an outfit called NextRequest.

NextRequest, headquartered in San Francisco, serves as a clearing house for public records requests for governmental agencies, schools, special districts, etc.

Apparently governmental agencies’ rush to privatize services now extends to responding to and complying with public records requests.

Edmonson retired from LSP in March 2017 following a San Diego conference attended by several LSP officials, including four troopers who made the trip in a state vehicle and who took a side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in 2016.

The investigation of that trip resulted in two of the most convoluted, confusing and controversial—and conflicting—findings by the State Board of Ethics. In April 2018, the ethics board cleared—in secret—the four troopers of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were simply following orders from higher-ups and had taken the vehicle and the side trip with the approval of Edmonson.

Sixteen months later, in August of this year, that same board CLEARED EDMONSON of any wrongdoing for that same trip. Edmonson, it should be noted, was represented before the board by Baton Rouge attorney Gray Sexton who once headed the ethics board.

Sexton said at the time that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well. It’s unclear whether or not the FBI has actually dropped its investigation of Edmonson, who was harshly criticized for his management practices in an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

If reports of Edmonson’s hiring are true, he would find himself working in a familiar—and friendly—atmosphere, given his ties to Robert Watters, owner of RICK’S CABARET.

Edmonson was instrumental in negotiating a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter to augment New Orleans police.

In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a PERMANENT LSP PRESENCE. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the Quarter.

When proceeds from the sales tax proved insufficient, the Louisiana Legislature appropriated an additional $2.4 million to cover the shortfall.

In December 2018, a STATE AUDIT said LSP had not provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing the Quarter was actually spent there, a finding with which LSP disagreed.

If Edmonson has indeed been appointed program manager for the district, he will undoubtedly have interactions with his old agency that he left under a cloud two-and-one-half years ago.

 

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Trying to decipher which was the first to employ Gestapo-like extortion as a means of controlling licensees is like solving the chicken-or-the-egg riddle, but there’s no question that the methods employed by the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Medical Licensing Board are eerily similar.

Both employ highly questionable investigative methods, both impose stiff fines followed by even more outrageous fines if the licensee displays any will to resist what may even be bogus charges, and both make generous use of the most effective punishment: revocation of licenses—taking away the victim’s very means of earning a livelihood.

And both also occasionally force recalcitrant dentists and physicians to attend costly rehab clinics either in addition to or in lieu of license revocations. And those rehab clinics can cost as much as $30,000 a month.

Sometimes, a professional is sent to a facility that has its own abuse problems. Take the case of Slidell dentist KENNETH STARLING, who, in addition to having to pay an $8,000 fine, was sent by the dental board to a place called Palmetto Addition Recovery Center in Rayville in Richland Parish in 2010.

But PALMETTO, it turned out, was involved a 2009 lawsuit after one of its staff members, Dr. Douglas Wayne Cook, became sexually involved with one of the center’s patients.

And even while at Palmetto, the dental board continued targeting him. Could that be because he practiced in the same town as influential board member Dr. Edward Donaldson?

And while the practices of the dental board have been publicized often by LouisianaVoice, the state medical board essentially plays by the same rules. And, just as with the dental board, the name of Palmetto Addiction Recovery Centers surfaces on a regular basis in report after report, along with Pine Grove Recovery Centers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Physicians’ Health Foundation of Louisiana.

I have chosen to delete the names and locations of the following examples, but the cases serve as examples of an uneven playing field, often dependent upon on the physician in question:

  • Following his arrest on charges of distribution and possession of controlled and dangerous substances in 2005, Dr. ________submitted to substance abuse evaluation at Palmetto. “Apparently, the physician had submitted to chemical dependency treatment on two prior occasions. Upon his discharge from Palmetto, he underwent residential treatment at Pine Grove. His license was reinstated in 2009 but in 2013, the board received information indicating that the physician “had returned to the use of controlled or other mood-altering substances.” In 2018, after being placed on indefinite probation in 2014, his license was “reinstated without restriction.”
  • ___________entered a plea of guilty to one count of Medicaid fraud in 2002 and subsequently underwent in-patient chemical dependency evaluation for cocaine abuse. Following completion of his criminal penalty, he was referred to Physician Health Foundation’s Physician Health Program (PHP). Following his reinstatement in 2008, he was disciplined again in 2018, this time placed on probation for unspecified violations.
  • _________________ was diagnosed in 1999 with cocaine and alcohol addiction and in 2000 was referred to Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia through Physicians’ Health Foundation and later to Fontainebleau Treatment Center in Mandeville. His license was reinstated in 2006 but in 2007, he again came under scrutiny for drug abuse and was again referred to a PHP monitoring program and he was placed on probation by the board for a 10-year period in 2008. He was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.
  • ________________ entered a plea of guilty to one count of health care fraud in 2009. In addition to criminal penalties, the board suspended his license for 90 days, placed him on probation for five years, and fined him $3,000. Following his reinstatement in December 2009, it was subsequently learned in 2011 that he had been issuing prescriptions of narcotics, including OxyContin, from his home and vehicle since May 2009 under the auspices of a practice site not approved by the board. The board again suspended his license, this time for six months and he was placed on probation for 10 years.
  • _________________ voluntarily entered into a two-week program at DePaul Hospital in New Orleans for cocaine dependency in 1995 and 1996 before transferring to Talbott Marsh in Atlanta. The board in 1998 ordered him into additional treatment in PHP at Palmetto and placed him on probation for five years. In 2003, he was again placed on five-year probation for failure to comply with requirements set forth in the 1998 order. His license was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.

But when a Lafayette NEUROSURGEON becomes involved in suspected arson and subsequently enters a plea of guilty to one count of felony obstruction of justice, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is strangely silent.

Dr. Nancy Rogers was arrested in 2012 in connection with the fire at Levy-East Bed & Breakfast in Natchitoches, a blaze that caused $500,000 in damage to the unoccupied building. No motive has been given for the fire, but investigators determined it to have been intentionally set.

But in the case of Dr. ARNOLD FELDMAN of Baton Rouge, the board came down especially hard.

In a terse December 20, 2018, LETTER TO FELDMAN, board Executive Director Vincent Culotta, Jr., wrote, “Per the decision and order of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners dated April 13, 2015, the amount due is as follows:

  • Cost of proceeding—$456,980.60
  • Administrative fine—$5,000
  • Total: $461,980.60.

This is not intended as a treatsie on Feldman’s guilt or innocence, but it’s rather difficult to fathom what “proceedings” could cost nearly $457,000 but that’s the way the dental and medical examiners boards operate. While members of both boards are appointed by the governor, they are apparently accountable to no one and able to set fines and costs at whatever amounts they wish.

Feldman served briefly as a member of the Physicians’ Health Foundation until he started asking questions that made certain people uncomfortable. Four months later, he found himself in the board’s crosshairs. But during his short tenure, he learned that the medical board funnels about a million dollars a year into the foundation. Apparently, there is no accounting for those funds.

Moreover, he said, the so-called “independent judges” hearing cases for possible board disciplinary action are paid by the board investigator’s office, which creates something of a stacked deck going into the process—not to mention an obvious conflict of interest.

Physicians aren’t the only ones to encounter an uncooperative medical board. The Legislative Auditor was forced to SUE the board in order to obtain board records so that it could perform its statutorily-mandated job of auditing the board’s financial records.

Senate Bill 286, the so-called physicians’ Bill of Rights, passed the SENATE by a unanimous 36-0 vote last year but never made it to the floor of the House after being involuntarily deferred in committee.

But a rare unanimous DECISION by the U.S. Supreme Court exactly two months later, on February 20, could impact the way these boards mete out exorbitant fines.

Even though the high court’s ruling on Timbs v. Indiana is considered a blow aimed at criminal justice reform, particularly in the so-called policing for profit through asset forfeiture, its effects could spill over into the way civil fines are handed down by regulatory bodies.

The ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, falls back on the Eighth Amendment that guarantees that no “excessive fines” may be imposed, a concept that dates back to the Magna Carta and later embraced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

It will be interesting to see if any dentist or physician victimized by either of these boards files legal action based on the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling.

If someone does, it could be a game changer.

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Old habits die hard, especially when those old habits involve potentially criminal acts carried out under the guise of regulation of licensees whom you regulate and routinely browbeat into submission with massive fines for minor infractions—or even no infractions at all.

But those behind the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry’s unique brand of justice that involved having a single employee serve as accuser, prosecutor and judge have taken their actions to a new level that now encompasses the practices of reprisals against whistleblowers, witness tampering, and cyber stalking—all of which, by the way are felonies.

Here are links to just a few of the stories LouisianaVoice has done on the board in the past:

BOARD HARASSES DOC WHO NEVER TOUCHED A TOOTH

APPEAL COURT SLAMS LSDB TACTIC

WHISTLEBLOWER RUINED IN EFFORT TO PROTECT LSU DENTISTRY SCHOOL IN LAWSUIT

And one LouisianaVoice did not write:

TRIAL TO DECIDE IF BOARD CONSPIRED AGAINST DENTIST

There were many more stories on the board, but you get the drift. Basically, it was a board comprised of out-of-control executives, investigators and members who flexed their collective muscle to drive out competition.

In Haygood’s case, he was convinced that a direct competitor, Dr. Ross Dies, had conspired with board members to manufacture complaints against him. And the cooperative board did just that, coming up with eight violations and imposing fines of more than $173,000. Haygood moved out of state and filed suit against Dies, the board and its investigators, a couple of them, ironically enough, unlicensed investigators.

That Haygood decided to fight back must have come as quite a surprise to the board which had always bullied into submission dentists terrified of not only hefty fines, but the very real threat of license revocation.

Because the board had employed unlicensed investigators to pursue Haygood, the board negotiated a consent agreement whereby he paid substantially lower fines ($16,500) and was reinstated.

Part of the consent agreement also stipulated that Haygood, “other than presenting evidence, claims, and testimony,” he would refrain from publishing or making “any disparaging or critical remarks verbally or in writing about the board or any of the board parties.”

Well, on April 4, 2018, Haygood did just that. He gave his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee in connection with Senate Bill 260 which dealt with…disciplinary hearings by professional and occupational licensing boards and commissions.

Also testifying before the committee were Dr. Randall Wilk, a doctor who holds a dental license but who has never touched a tooth (as more fully described in the first link above) who found himself in the board’s crosshairs, and Diana Chenevert, a former employee of the Dental Board.

Wilk was called in to a board meeting and told to pay a $5,000 fine and sign a consent decree over a false charge of his possessing no anesthesia permit or a certificate in oral surgery. Wilk refused to sign the consent decree without his attorney first reviewing the document. The board members left the room and returned with an adding machine “and told me that if I did not sign the document right then and there, that they could levy fines of over $100,000. This was a pure and simple shakedown,” Wilk said.

Board investigator Camp Morrison, who since has lost his own license as a private investigator, would show up at Wilk’s operation waiting room handing out business cards to his patients and advising them that he was the Dental Board’s investigator and that he was conducting an investigation of Dr. Wilk—even Wilk was not even a practicing dentist.

As an illustration how the board routinely extorted fines from dentists while giving them no opportunity to defend themselves, go to this LINK.

Chenevert, Haygood says, “witnessed unethical and potentially illegal informal hearing and consent decree methods, observed board members filing and directing penalties against dentists practicing in their own areas, illegal investigations and the destruction of documents.

The board’s reaction was immediate.

New complaints have now been filed against both Wilk and Haygood because of their “disparaging remarks” about the board in their Senate testimony. All three have been subjected to “additional threatening, intimidating, extortive, and retaliatory behaviors, including but not limited to: close surveillance and repetitive, unrelenting, and harassing text messages,” according to Haygood’s petition.

The board came after Wilk the very week after his Senate testimony, renewing the same charge of his lacking an anesthesia permit from the board which, to reiterate, is not required since he does not practice dentistry. The timing of the renewed charges cannot be written off as coincidence.

But the worst of those are the text messages directed at Chenevert. Whoever the despicable, disgusting, cowardly sleazebag is (and have a pretty good idea who it is), he is conducting his cyber stalking anonymously—and well he should, because what he’s doing could quite easily land him in jail. And I am fully aware that a news story should not editorialize, but this person is a special kind of lowlife, so I’ll exercise my option to call it the way I see it.

LouisianaVoice has copies of the texts, but they will not be published. But suffice it to say, besides offering her a cushy job in exchange for her recanting her testimony, the messages are explicit, vulgar, and more than a little suggestive—all designed to rattle her and intimidate her into recanting her testimony. The latest was received Monday morning (Feb. 18, 2019). I’m pretty sure the perpetrator gets his jollies writing them.

These latest actions by and on behalf of the board go way beyond the bounds of decency and are way beneath the mission of a public board appointed by the governor of Louisiana. Perhaps Gov. Edwards should just remove every single member, as well as the executive director, and start over because it’s quite clear that the board and its representatives, official or unofficial, are out of control.

State Sens. Fred Mills, Chairman of the Committee on Health and Welfare, and Danny Martiny, Chairman of the Committee on Commerce let their feelings about the board’s latest reprisals be known in a December 17, 2018 LETTER.

In their letter, Martiny (R-Metairie) and Mills (R-New Iberia) expressed their “profound disapproval of not only including a non-disparagement clause in a consent decree with a licensed dentist, but invoking that clause as a result of providing legislative committee testimony. We consider this a gross abuse of power as there is no compelling state interest in restricting the speech of a licensee simply because you find his comments derogatory to the board.”

The letter reminded the board that it was “created by legislature to protect the public,” adding that there was “absolutely nothing in this action by the board that has any semblance of public protection. Rather, it appears to be an unacceptable strong-arming of a government body for self-serving and retaliatory means.”

Board President Dr. Jerome Smith responded with his own LETTER on December 20 in an attempt to justify its latest attack against Haygood but ended by saying that “the charges pending against this dentist have been hereby dismissed since our 2018 board president has decided to turn this matter over to me.”

Amazing what getting a letter from a couple of pissed-off legislators can do.

But Haygood’s attorney Jerald Harper of Shreveport isn’t quite ready to let the matter drop so easily. His client, as well as Dr. Wilk and Ms. Chenevert have been subjected to harassment and Wilk and Chenevert, as pointed out, continue to feel pressure from the board.

In a February 13 letter to the two senators, HARPER pointed out that the “systematic, punitive” actions of the board were the result of testimony from the three. He said there “have been clearly extraordinary and plainly criminal efforts to exact a retraction from Ms. Diana Chenevert. These actions are continuing as of the date of this communication. I hope you share my concerns about protecting witnesses who voluntarily appear before the Louisiana Legislature to share their views, expertise and experience in order to permit it to properly exercise its oversight functions.”

Harper also took issue with Dr. Smith’s letter, saying he provided “false or misleading information on nearly every point provided in that letter, adding that while Dr. Smith claimed that the complaint against Dr. Haygood will be dismissed, the board “has provided no notice of this dismissal to Dr. Haygood as of this writing.”

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