Sacramento, CA – Proposed legislation would enact important changes to hold dangerous doctors more accountable in California, but excludes crucial reforms that will continue threaten patient safety, said Consumer Watchdog. The bill creates a public member majority on the Board, a top priority of patient advocates, however fails to mandate patients have rights in the enforcement process or receive timely information about their doctors. Lawmakers will vote on the bill authored by Senator Richard Roth today in the Senate Business, Professions & Economic Development Committee.
“Lawmakers and the Medical Board must give patients rights in the enforcement process and access to information about their doctors in order to protect themselves. “We applaud Senator Roth for proposing reforms in this bill that will increase doctor accountability, including adding two public members to the Board, but without additional changes dangerous doctors will escape investigation and patients will continue to be harmed,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.
The bill creates a Complainant Liaison Unit at the Medical Board to interact with members of the public, but does not give people who file a complaint about patient harm rights in the enforcement process. That means, for example, the Board does not have to interview the patient who was harmed, or the loved ones of a patient who died, before closing their complaint. The bill also does not address advocates’ call for greater disclosure of doctors’ records online and in person, so patients will remain in the dark if their doctor has harmed other patients.
The bill does however propose several important reforms that patient advocates have championed and support, said Consumer Watchdog, including: Changing the balance of power on the board by giving it more public than doctor members; reducing the standard of proof in doctor discipline cases to match that used by 41 other state boards and reduce the time and cost of investigations; and increasing the doctor licensing fees that fund the Board so it can address staffing shortages and reduce case timelines that have crippled accountability. These reforms have been embraced by the Medical Board as well after years of public advocacy.
California patients denied justice by the Board have shared their stories in order to illustrate the need for mandatory patient rights at the Medical Board and increased disclosure of doctors’ disciplinary histories are needed to protect the public.
A San Diego doctor was charged this month with murder for the death of one of his patients, Megan Espinoza, when he failed to call 911 for three hours after her heart stopped during surgery. Multiple other women were harmed in his care, and none of them were informed of Ms. Espinoza’s death, the Medical Board investigation, or prior criminal charges filed against the doctor. Even after the murder charges were filed the doctor still has his license. Learn more about the case, Ms. Espinoza, and the other patients harmed by her doctor here.
Annette Ramirez of Manhattan Beach entered the hospital for a routine hysterectomy. During the surgery her colon was nicked and a failure to diagnose that error caused a severe sepsis infection. Ms. Ramirez was forced into a 4-month coma and woke with all four limbs amputated. She submitted a complaint to the Medical Board of California but just a few months later she was notified her complaint had been found “without merit,” despite the fact that she was never even interviewed by the Board. Learn more about Annette Ramirez’s story.
The legislation under consideration, SB 815 by Senator Richard Roth, is the Medical Board’s sunset review bill and must be passed this year. In 2021, prior Medical Board sunset review legislation created an Enforcement Monitor charged with reporting back to the legislature on several aspects of the Board’s enforcement process. Its interim report in March confirmed that the Medical Board’s investigations of doctors are hamstrung by funding shortfalls and that prosecutions are undermined by a crippling division between investigators and attorneys housed in different agencies. The Monitor’s final report is due in July.
Meet other patients advocating for change.
Read Consumer Watchdog’s Medical Board Patient Bill of Rights.
Watch the hearing, which begins at 10:30am: