California Medical Mistakes Often Go Without Disciplining: Report

The prominent consumer watchdog group Public Citizen is urging California health officials to take action against more than 700 doctors who were disciplined by various institutions around the state for delivering substandard care and putting patients at risk; more than 100 of which are considered a threat to patients by their peers. 

According to a letter sent by Public Citizen earlier this month to California Governor Jerry Brown, the group is calling for him to bring pressure on the Medical Board of California to step up actions, such as license revocation, against doctors with poor records.

Public Citizen indicates that since 2006, California’s track record of protecting patients from dangerous healthcare professionals has plummeted. This year, California ranks 35th in the nation for disciplining dangerous doctors, as determined by Public Citizen’s analysis.

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The group compiled a list of 710 physicians who had clinical privilege actions taken against them by hospitals and other health care facilities where they worked due medical mistakes like misdiagnosis, wrong-site surgery and leaving medical devices in patients, as well as alcohol abuse, drug abuse and other problems.

The number, compiled from an analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank from 1990 to 2009, represents a little more than half of all state physicians who were disciplined by their institutions for medical failings during that time period.

Out of that 710, there were 102 doctors who were deemed to be immediate threats to patient health and safety by peer reviewers who are still allowed to practice medicine in the state. Nationwide, about 220 doctors have been determined to be an immediate threat to their patients who are still able to work in the medical field, meaning that almost half of those doctors are in California.

Public Citizen warned that as long as Medical Board takes no action against them, thousands of patients are at risk of medical mistakes in California due to these physicians continuing to practice medicine.

California officials have said that the medical board is aware of the problem, but claims the state’s resources are stretched too thin to address the growing list of doctors providing substandard care to patients.


  • StonePillarSeptember 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Dear Public Citizen: I am responding to Public Citizen's August 9, 2011 press release "California Is Delinquent in Disciplining Dangerous Doctors" and to Dr. Sidney Wolfe's August 9, 2011 letter to Governor Jerry Brown regarding the press release. In the August 9, 2011 press release, Public Citizen says: "Public Citizen sent a letter on March 14, 2011, to California’s medical board asking it to[Show More]Dear Public Citizen: I am responding to Public Citizen's August 9, 2011 press release "California Is Delinquent in Disciplining Dangerous Doctors" and to Dr. Sidney Wolfe's August 9, 2011 letter to Governor Jerry Brown regarding the press release. In the August 9, 2011 press release, Public Citizen says: "Public Citizen sent a letter on March 14, 2011, to California’s medical board asking it to work with the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify the faulty physicians. The medical board responded in April, noting that understaffing and lack of resources may affect its ability to follow up on the 710 physicians Public Citizen identified as having escaped punishment. [Emphasis added.]" Public Citizen also says in its press release: "These suggestions, which Public Citizen endorses, include transferring medical board investigators to the California Department of Justice, where they could work more seamlessly with prosecutors of the Health Quality Enforcement Section, and raising licensing fees to increase the medical board’s budget. [Emphasis added.]" I hope Public Citizen does not expect Governor Jerry Brown to respond to Dr. Wolfe's important letter in a way that is favorable to California's healthcare consumers. As you must know, Governor Brown is notorious for not being tough on dangerous California healthcare professionals and providers, such as nursing homes and nurses that commit elder abuse against vulnerable, sick patients in these facilities. But please don't take my word for it. You can read the details at Christina Jewett's March 9, 2010 "Fewer Elder Abuse Prosecutions under Jerry Brown" and her August 21, 2010 "Prosecutions of Elder Abuse Cases Decline under Jerry Brown" at California Watch. I also hope that Public Citizen does not expect the Medical Board investigators to "work more seamlessly" with California Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators and prosecutors. The major budget cuts, understaffing, and lack of resources that are also plaguing the the California DOJ are resulting in far fewer investigations and prosecutions of dangerous healthcare professionals. In fact, the five (5) verbatim California Department of Justice (DOJ) emails below show Governor Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris' plan to dismantle the AG's DOJ's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA), which will then allow nursing homes, staff, and others to more easily commit elder abuse with impunity. The five California DOJ emails below regarding the plan to dismantle the DOJ's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) due to budget cuts are from the following: 1. Attorney General Kamala Harris. 2. Mark Geiger, director of DOJ's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA). 3. Don Hayashida, acting director of DOJ's Division of Administrative Support. 4. Tina Khang, a BMFEA agent supervisor in Sacramento. 5. Don Hayashida, acting director of DOJ's Division of Administrative Support. Before you read the DOJ emails below, please note that a senior California DOJ BMFEA special agent has said the following: * There is a plan to lay off about 200 agents across the board. * Older, more senior agents from the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) or Bureau of Investigations and Intelligence (BII) would bump out agents in the more specialized units, such as Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, even though they have no skills or experience in that field. * There is no money for investigators. * There is full funding for everyone one else in the AG's office. * The plan is very selective and punitive retribution against investigators. * The plan is to dismantle investigators only. * No one will be left to work elder abuse. * Attorney General Harris is going along with the plan to dismantle the BMFEA and does not realize the consequences of having no state DOJ investigators. * There is absolute chaos within DOJ, including the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. * No one is really working any cases. * All are worried about losing jobs on short notice. * Even those with 12+ years of seniority may lose jobs to be replaced by more senior agents with no specialized skills in healthcare fraud or elder abuse. ------------------------------- [DOJ emails begin.] >>> Kamala Harris 7/18/2011 6:58 AM >>> Dear Colleagues, In my six months as Attorney General, I have traveled up and down the state to meet as many of you as possible. During these visits, I have met dedicated analysts at the Hawkins Data Center, brave Special Agents working in the Fresno Regional Office, and talented legal support professionals in Oakland. At every stop, I am proud of the talent and commitment that each of you brings to your job. I thank you all for the hard work and for your dedication to this Department and to the People of the State of California. As all of you know, for the past few years preserving the DOJ budget has been an ongoing battle. This year was no exception. As I shared with you in an earlier e-mail, our budget was cut by $71 million. I am fully committed to getting this budget cut restored. I am thankful for the efforts that each of you, our public safety and labor partners and many elected officials, are doing to assist us with the restoration of our funding. I assure you that these efforts will continue until a resolution on the budget cut is reached. On July 13, 2011, I met with the labor leaders that represent the majority of DOJ personnel at DOJ Headquarters in Sacramento. I updated them regarding our ongoing effort to restore the $71 million budget cut to DLE and will continue to update them on all developments. Because the reduced budget has been passed and signed into law, our department must begin the steps to begin developing a position reduction plan based on the budget reduction in DLE. That plan will be submitted to the Department of Personnel Administration for their approval. In addition, we have begun to take action that we anticipate will provide some mitigation to the impact of these reductions. In the meantime, please continue your great work for the People of the State of California. They are counting on us now more than ever; and each one of you, by doing your job with the utmost integrity and dedication, demonstrates the critical role we play in keeping California safe. If you have any questions or ideas about our efforts to restore the budget cut, please contact DLE Director Larry Wallace at . If you have any questions about the administrative process that we must undertake, please contact Don Hayashida at . Please know I will keep you updated on our progress. Best, Kamala D. Harris -------------- >>> Mark Geiger 7/20/2011 4:32 PM >>> To all the BMFEA family: As you know from the Attorney General's message to us on July 18, she continues to work to preserve the function of, and people in, the Department of Justice. Unfortunately there is little certainty to how the future will look or even what shape the office will take. We know only that while we hope for the best, the Attorney General's staff is preparing for the worst. Their objective is to preserve people's jobs, even if it may mean some inconvenience and uncertainty in the process. I can assure you that BMFEA has no plans to close any of our offices in response to this crisis. We have had plans for over a year to try and reduce our office overhead expenses by looking into consolidating some offices. We received approval late last year to begin working with DGS to look at alternate office space sites in the LA basin to see if we could find something that would reduce our expenditures for the long run. We are in the process of examining cities for sites and will continue to work with DGS but any change will not be in the near future. The $71 million budget cut to DLE primarily affects personnel in BNE, BII and CATIC. It is people from those Bureaus we will be expected to help absorb to save jobs. Each is composed of a number of sworn and non-sworn classifications. As you know, only BMFEA, Gambling Control and Firearms are 'specially-funded' to be able to safely absorb the sworn personnel and we will do our part. By contrast, Personnel can look to the other Bureaus within DLE as well as the many legal divisions within DOJ to help place the non-sworn personnel. Again, BMFEA will assist as much as we are able. Currently, we have the following funded and available vacant positions: Special Agents: 8 CIS -II: 2 Office Tech's: 2 Invest. Aud. (Sup.): 1 We also had one vacant position for a Special Agent in Charge, located in Sacramento. DLE offered this posting to their Asst. Bureau Chief for their Aviation Division, Eric Seiberlich, and Eric has accepted. Eric, formerly with BMFEA and well-known to many, will begin August 15 here in Sacramento. I have very little hard information about what the process and time line will be for placement of personnel except that it may begin, in earnest, no later than September. There are many variables that will impact placements and the selection process, most of which is controlled by union Bargaining Contracts and state law. I will do my best to keep you informed when I have 'hard' facts to share. In the interim, please don't hesitate to contact me - or your supervisor - to at least check out the many rumors that are floating around out there. More likely than not I will not have more information than you do, but I will chase down answers when I don't. This will be a time of change and adjustment for many people throughout DOJ. I will appreciate your continued professionalism and care for the people around you and attention to our mission. The public fisc demands no less. Thank you. ------------- >>> Don Hayashida 7/29/2011 9:17 AM >>> Colleagues, Over the past several weeks, notices have been sent out informing employees of the reduction to the Department’s Division of Law Enforcement budget. While considerable efforts continue to mitigate this reduction, the Department must go forward with submitting a position reduction plan to the Department of Personnel Administration. This plan has been developed and submitted. As the result of the recent communication regarding the budget reduction, many employees have asked several relevant questions that, for the most part, pertain to the State Restriction of Appointment (SROA) process. As a result, the Department’s Division of Administrative Support has placed employees’ most frequently asked questions (FAQs on the Intranet where they are accessible to everyone. The FAQs can be found by going to the Intranet’s home page at: and clicking on the link listed under the heading, “DOJ Budget Reduction”. The FAQ page will be updated as additional questions and answers are developed. Employees may also submit questions regarding the impact of the budget reduction to the following email address: A phone hotline will soon be available for employees who wish to speak with a DAS/Personnel representative regarding this subject. This phone number will be listed on the Intranet site as soon as it is available. We encourage you to use these resources as a way of obtaining the most current and accurate information. It is important that we provide the best information available and would welcome any other suggestions you believe may help during this anxious and uncertain time. We will provide updates and status reports as we move through this process. Thanks, Don Hayashida Acting Director, Division of Administrative Support ----------------- >>> Tina Khang 8/10/2011 11:25 AM >>> Just got this email from an Agent in another bureau, who received it from their "Acting Chief." It is regarding the layoffs. Sounds really bad. It appears that the 200 Agent positions being cut reaches up to Agents with 15 years or less. If true, that would devastate BMFEA since a large majority of the Agents here have less than 15 years of total state service, and would therefore eventually get "bumped" by another Agent (poss. from DLE). I would be included in this category of Agents. I am really worried right now. I spoke with Director Geiger briefly, who has informed me that he meeting with Personnel today. I provided him with a copy of the same email I've attached below for you to read. I am hoping that Director Geiger can provide us with a more definitive answer and either confirm whether the information contained in the attached email is accurate or not. I cannot speak for other Agents in our Bureau, however, I can say for sure that I think we all here would like to know one way or another, so we can make a more informed decision on what we need to do in the coming days and weeks. Thank you. Tina --------------- >>> Don Hayashida 8/25/2011 9:51 AM >>> Colleagues, On July 29th I shared some information with you regarding the status of the budget reduction in the Division of Law Enforcement and our plans for dealing with it. While our Attorney General and Executive team are continuing their efforts to restore funding and find new funding sources, we must proceed administratively on the assumption that no funding will be restored. To that end, I have several updates to share with you. First, our layoff plan is being reviewed by the Department of Personnel Administration. We are in contact with them on a daily basis to try to ensure that our plan is approved as quickly as possible and we can send surplus/SROA notices to the affected employees. As soon as the plan is approved, we will be able to share more information with you, such as the impacted classifications. In the last communication I mentioned that in addition to the email address ( you can use to get answers to your questions related to this budget cut, we would be implementing a phone help line. That HelpLine number is (916) 324-5047. You will be able to speak with a staff member from Personnel anytime between 8am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. If you need to leave a message, our goal is to respond back to you within 24 hours. We continue to update the frequently asked questions on available on the department's Intranet site. Please check that site regularly for the latest updates. Finally, in an attempt to be considerate of those in the department that will be directly impacted by this reduction, we have modified the distribution of GroupWise notifications for job opportunity bulletins (JOBs). Effective immediately, individuals that wish to receive JOB email notifications are required to subscribe to specific classifications through the DOJ Web Login. Should you need assistance logging into DOJ Web, you may contact the DOJ Web Administrator at The process by which JOBs are posted to the DOJ Intranet and the AG's public internet site will not change. The department will continue to fill positions that have sufficient funding and are critical to departmental operations. Other positions will continue to be filled that meet the stringent requirements we have established, and each advertisement will continue to be reviewed by the Appointment Review Committee prior to release. I understand the feelings of anxiety, frustration, and anger created by our budget circumstances. While we must comply with the processes established by the state that govern personnel reductions, providing information can help. We are committed to do this. Please use the tools described in this email should you have any questions about the process or how it might impact you. Please let me know if you have questions or other suggestions that you believe may help. Thank you for your patience. Don [End of DOJ emails.] ------------------------ Thanks for taking the time to read my email about this very important topic. This is especially vital if you are a healthcare consumer or a vulnerable elder or dependent adult in a nursing home in California. These are scary, dangerous times in California. Regards, Scared California healthcare consumer

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