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Updated Nov 20, 2013 - 4:19 pm

Investigator: Arizona Medical Board troubles should be warning to others

PHOENIX — Problems found at the Arizona board that licenses physicians
should be a wake-up call to other state agencies and trigger reviews of their
polices, the head of an independent legislative watchdog agency said Wednesday.

Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens’ Aide Dennis Wells told members of the state
Legislature’s heath committees that the Arizona Medical Board ignored laws and
rules on physician licensing when it developed a fast-tracked licensing system.
Wells said its former executive director thought she had the right to change
rules at will, despite laws governing how licenses are issued.

“It is my belief that the report is a wake-up call and that every state agency
should review with the attorney general how they’re following the law,” Wells
said. “Our message to all state agencies is `don’t let this happen in your

An ombudsman’s investigation into allegations made by medical board employees
determined Executive Director Lisa Wynn had bypassed laws requiring background
checks and other reviews of applicants in order to streamline the licensing

The board fired Wynn just three days after the ombudsman released its report on
Oct. 9.

Lawmakers quizzed Wells about the investigations and why he didn’t pursue board
members themselves. But Wells said his agency’s only role is to respond to
complaints and investigate them, not head off on an open-ended probe.

Dr. Gordi Khera, the board’s chairman, testified that since he took over in
February and became aware of the problems, staff oversight has greatly increased
and that will not stop.

“In the last six months we’ve had more meetings than we’ve had in the past six
years. There are special meetings held nearly every two weeks” said Khera, a
Glendale cardiologist. “We’re in constant touch with the interim (executive
director). There’s a significant change from where we were to where we are now.
That’s going to happen as long as I’m chair.”

Sen. Nancy Barto, the Senate’s health and human services committee chair, said
that practice needs to be written into policy.

“I think it’s important to codify those policies going forward so there isn’t
this terrible disconnect between the board and the staff,” Barto said.

Khera said the medical board is reviewing more than 2,000 licenses and hundreds
of renewals that were issued between September 2011 and when the report was
released to make sure the applicants are qualified.

Wednesday’s hearing came a day after six former medical board employees filed
claims saying Wynn forced them from their jobs after they questioned the
legality of the licensing.

Democratic committee members questioned whether Barto, a Phoenix Republican,
inappropriately communicated with board members before Wynn’s firing. Rep. Eric
Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said “when there’s a perception that it isn’t open
and transparent” communicating with the board should be avoided because
lawmakers could influence decisions.

Barto fired back, saying she believes it’s her duty to watch the board.

“It’s our purview as legislators to oversee what’s going on with boards,”
Barto said. “Individuals, including myself, are not influencing the board.”


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