Op-Ed: Compromising A Medical Board

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Op-Ed Commentary by Greer Levin, for HOSPITAL WATCHDOG

January 29, 2021


Doctors’ Lobby Protect Their Own At Medical Board

Governor Newsom appointed Dr. Richard Thorp to the Medical Board of California in July of 2019. His controversial appointment raises a glaring red flag for health care quality across the state.

The Medical Board’s job is patient protection. Thorp’s recent role as president of a political organization opposed to reasonable physician oversight makes him an alarmingly inappropriate candidate for this critical public safety post. The California Medical Association (CMA), California’s largest lobbying organization for doctors, has a long record of active opposition to common sense patient safety measures.

Dr. Thorp was CMA president in 2013 and 2014, during which time he led the organization’s opposition to Proposition 46. The ballot initiative provided a rare opportunity for Californians to overturn an outdated law that has limited patients’ rights since 1975. It would have raised the limits, or the “cap” on damages in medical malpractice cases, in order to allow fair compensation for injured patients and ensure accountability for doctors who make mistakes.

The initiative would also have required drug and alcohol testing of doctors within 12 hours of an adverse medical event such as surgical error, fatal infection, or overdose. Thorp complained that drug testing would cut into doctors’ “off-duty” time. A doctor who prioritizes down-time over public safety even in instances of gross harm to patients is not suited for a place on the Board.

Although then-leader of the Senate Darryl Steinberg believed he had a legislative compromise for adjusting the cap in response to Prop 46, the CMA under Thorp refused to compromise. California’s cap remains the lowest in the nation, with no exceptions even for cases of disability or death.

Unfulfilled Board Promise Of Patient Protection 

The irony and travesty of Thorp’s appointment lie in the fact that lawmakers promised to enhance Medical Board oversight of physicians in 1975, as a substitute for the legal protections patients lost when damages for medical malpractice injuries were limited. Since many injured patients would no longer have access to justice through the courts, lawmakers promised the Board would fill the gap and hold physicians accountable for patient harm. The Medical Board has failed to live up to that promise of patient protection. And, if political appointees like Thorp remain on the Board, that purpose will continue to be flagrantly ignored.

Since his Board tenure began Dr. Thorp’s decisions have reflected the ethos of the CMA. He has: opposed requiring doctors to personally review a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids; opposed increasing physician licensing fees to adequately fund the Board’s investigations of physician misconduct; and, championed confidential diversion programs for substance-abusing doctors, which replace public enforcement actions.

Tammy Smick, a member of Consumer Watchdog’s Board of Directors, lost her 20-year-old son, Alex, to medical negligence. She wrote a letter to Senator Toni Atkins objecting to Thorp’s confirmation. Read her letter, and Consumer Watchdog’s call on Gavin Newsom to withdraw his nomination of Thorp 

Pandemic Powers Delay Appointment

California law requires that Thorp’s nomination be confirmed by the state Senate within one year of his appointment. However, Governor Newsom has exercised his emergency powers to issue executive orders delaying that confirmation on three different occasions.

Thorp’s confirmation hearing will take place in the Senate Rules Committee on February 3rd at 1:30 pm. By the time of the hearing, nearly eighteen months will have passed since his initial appointment.

Repeatedly delaying Thorp’s confirmation circumvents California’s legally prescribed democratic process. Medical negligence survivors and their families have been denied the opportunity to speak out publicly against Thorp’s controversial appointment.

The governor’s nominees to the Medical Board are the only nominees whose terms had already expired when his last executive order using the pandemic to delay confirmations was issued in August. By that time, the Senate had confirmed 185 other gubernatorial appointees. Why not Thorp?

Follow The Money!

Just a few months ago, Governor Newsom was dining unmasked at the birthday dinner for CMA’s longtime advisor, Jason Kinney, and two of the organization’s leaders. Kinney and his protégé, Jim DeBoo, who Governor Newsom just appointed his senior aide, were paid nearly a million dollars, collectively, by the CMA in 2013 and 2014 when they helped Dr. Thorp campaign against Proposition 46. Together they have made over $2.8 million over the last ten years representing the CMA and its political committees opposing patient safety measures. These ties cast a big shadow over Thorp’s appointment.

Also up for confirmation to the Board is Dr. Dev GnanaDev. Another previous president of the CMA, GnanaDev has sat on the Board for 8 years and used his position to push a political, anti-patient agenda.

In 2017, he opposed requiring doctors to disclose when they are on probation. NBC-TV Bay Area reported that he said: “If I go to a doctor … and if the person says to me, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m on probation,’ there goes whatever trust I had – completely gone.” Consumer Watchdog has spoken with many survivors of medical negligence who would give anything to have known their doctors were on probation before they suffered a needless and tremendous loss.

Statutory Mission: Protect Health Care Consumers

The statutory mission of the Medical Board of California is “to protect health care consumers through the proper licensing and regulation of physicians and surgeons… through the vigorous, objective enforcement of the Medical Practice Act.” But Thorp and GnanaDev have unequivocally demonstrated that their priorities do not lie with patients or vigorous enforcement of the laws that are meant to protect them.

The Medical Board holds its next quarterly meeting next week beginning on February 4th. At that meeting, the Board will discuss the California Legislature’s quadrennial “Sunset Review” of how well the Board is meeting its mission of patient protection. Patients deserve new Board members who will shine a critical light on the Board’s past failures and who will commit to doing better. Thorp and Gnana Dev are not those members.

We call on Governor Newsom to withdraw his nomination of doctors Thorp and GnanaDev before the Senate Rules Committee meets for their confirmation hearing on February 3rd at 1:30 pm. Patients’ lives are at stake.

Take Action!

The hearing will be live-streamed on the Senate’s website and we encourage members of the public to give their opinion during public comments. Watch the live stream of the hearing.  To call in with comments, instructions can be found on the Senate Rules Committee website.

Greer Levin is a Patient Safety Advocate at Consumer Watchdog. As part of her work, she interviews Californian patients and their families about how medical negligence has changed their lives. See information on the campaign to update the medical negligence cap.

Visit patients’ stories.

Consumer Watchdog
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