Two years ago, and four years before that, and at every legislative review of the Medical Board of California in recent memory, Californians have turned out to tell the legislature the same story: The Medical Board is failing to protect patients from dangerous doctors.
Will this be the year lawmakers listen?
The legislature’s Business & Professions Committees had their first sunset review oversight hearing of the Medical Board of California, and many of patient advocates’ issues were front and center.
That’s because dozens of patients turn out across the state at every opportunity to demand change. Well over two dozen Californians who personally suffered lifelong harm, or lost a loved one to medical negligence, waited for hours for a chance to share with lawmakers how the Board failed their families and call for reform.
Thank you to Senator Ross for staying, and for hearing public testimony until 6:30. Sadly, by the time patients got a chance to testify, he was the only committee member present. All 19 Assembly Members and 13 Senators on the Business & Professions Committees charged with Board oversight should pledge to watch the full hearing and listen to the public’s pleas.
Watch the testimony below given by families who form the patient advocate team organized by Consumer Watchdog.
They have been fighting for increased transparency of doctor records, a mandate that patients have a voice in the enforcement process, and increased accountability for doctors who cause the most harm. Find more detail about those reforms in our Medical Board Patient Bill of Rights here.
Senate Chair Roth, Assembly Chair Berman, and Senator Smallwood-Cuevas were the only lawmakers still in the room when the Medical Board portion of the hearing began at 4pm.
Each questioned the Board about failures in its enforcement process that patients have been demanding action on for many years.
Assemblymember Berman’s question about the Consumer Complaint Liaison proposal by the board spurred conversation about whether consumers are given the opportunity to engage at every step of the enforcement process. Senator Smallwood-Cuevas asked about the 83% closure rate of complaints at the Board’s triage unit last year, before any complainant is interviewed.
Our comments, and those from patient advocates, stressed that members of the public must be interviewed before their complaint about harm to themselves or the death of a loved one is summarily closed. One way to do that is to mandate an interview at the triage unit. Another is to simply investigate all serious complaints.
Senator Smallwood-Cuevas shared the story of another Black woman who died in childbirth in Los Angeles because her pleas for help in the hospital went unanswered, and pressed the Board on what it is doing in response to the maternal mortality crisis. Patient advocates shared stories during public testimony of failures by the Board to protect mothers from bad doctors with repeat histories of harm.
Smallwood-Cuevas also raised the example of a doctor charged with criminal manslaughter in a patient’s death, who was allowed to continue practicing and harm more families because patients have no right to know of Board investigations, or even criminal charges.
We joined patient advocates to urge these disclosures be made mandatory, online and in the doctor’s office.
Senator Roth delved into a wide range of issues, including: the board’s financial crisis (which slows down investigations) and the need to raise doctors’ licensing fees; providing patients the opportunity to submit an impact statement to the Board – like victims of a crime are able to do; ways to speed investigations, and license suspensions in the most egregious cases; and the preliminary report of the Medical Board Enforcement monitor (more detail here).
We have called for giving patients the opportunity to review, and rebut when necessary, records submitted about their own care, submit new evidence, and make a personal impact statement to the Board – like the victim statement to the court after a crime – before a case is judged or settled. This is especially important in cases where the doctor alters the medical records with false information, a practice many patients have reported to us.
Any new right must be enshrined in law, so it cannot be reversed as Board membership changes.
In the past, change has been crushed by big-money lobbying – led by the California Medical Association. Recent years’ groundswell of anger with year after year of Medical Board failures, and exhaustion every time a new preventable death makes headlines, should give lawmakers pause before bowing to those forces again. A guarantee? Hardly. But when the public’s call for reform is being echoed by lawmakers, Board members, and the news media, we should expect more of the legislature this year.
Watch the full March 16 hearing, Joint Hearing Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development and Assembly Business and Professions. The Medical Board portion of the hearing starts at the 2:08 mark.