New Mexico hides names of dangerous doctors, threats to public safety
When a fire starts in a hotel room, guests can pull an alarm and let everyone know they should head for the stairs.
When cars pile up on the freeway, police set up barriers to keep more people from meeting the same fate.
When a physician is deemed an "immediate threat and danger to public safety" in New Mexico, the New Mexico Medical Board sends out an all-points bulletin. Wait. No, it doesn't. It actually keeps that information a secret.
In the minutes of public meetings of the board, board staff black out the names of physicians who have had their licenses taken away for being a "danger to public safety" and for a host of other reasons, including "mental impairment," "substance abuse," and "sexual contact with a patient." Even though the board thinks that these doctors are such a threat to the public that they require immediate action, the board doesn't think the public deserves to know their names.
Unless the doctor happens to be named Dr. Kenneth Bull.
Bull is the only doctor in the past year who has been named in the minutes, and his case underscores why more information about physicians who have been disciplined should be made public. Bull (License No. 73-99) is a psychologist practicing in Albuquerque. In 1996, he crossed the doctor-patient relationship line by asking a patient for a loan of $25,000. The board wrote Bull a letter of reprimand.
Then things got more serious.
The board documented a string of cases where Bull overprescribed addictive drugs, often in dangerous combinations, to patients who had histories of addiction and other problems. It filed charges against Bull in August 2010, citing three patient cases, including one where Bull had prescribed a combination of drugs to a patient that, had they been taken together "would have been toxic."
In October, the board amended its charges and added another case. In this one, Bull prescribed "multiple high-dose benzodiazepines during the same period that he prescribed Suboxone." Benzodiazepine was one of the sedatives that contributed to Michael Jackson's death.
Suboxone is a drug used to help wean patients with addictions off painkillers and other drugs, but, it should not be taken in combination with benzodiazepine. In this case, Bull "continued prescribing [the] same medications to [the patient] even after noting [the patient] had been hospitalized for an overdose."
The same day that the board filed the amended charges, it determined that these allegations were serious enough to act swiftly. The board suspended Bull's license, giving him 15 days to request a hearing to review the suspension. And, after doing so, it included Bull's name in the meeting minutes. This way, any patient who was interested in seeing which doctors they should avoid could find out right away that Bull had posed an "immediate threat." Any medical board that received a license for a new application from a doctor practicing in New Mexico could check to see if they had been declared a "danger to public safety." Bull has served as an expert witness in criminal cases. Maybe prosecutors and defense attorneys would like to know this information, too.
Final question: Why is the same standard of transparency not applied to all doctors in New Mexico? The board has done a great job making its "Physician Profiles" easy to find and easy to use. They include all public documents about a doctor in one tidy package. The documents are not as detailed as those found in other states, but they do date back more than a decade, unlike some states. Given this commitment to transparency, it seems odd to find the meeting minutes so heavily redacted. It's only a matter of time before someone like Dr. Kenneth Bull decides that he is being unfairly stigmatized.
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