Schuitmaker, Jones fight to protect patients, restore trust in oversight boards with Conflict of Interest bills

For Immediate Release
Oct. 2, 2013

Arika Sinnott (Schuitmaker) 517-373-0793
Sen. Rick Jones 517-410-9495 or 517-373-3447     
LANSING, Mich. – State Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rick Jones Wednesday introduced legislation to ensure that patient health and safety are put before personal relationships and professional gain by increasing oversight and transparency at the state’s boards of health professions.

“Patients have the right to know that their health care providers are practicing safe medicine,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “Most health professionals are wonderful, trusted members of the community, but it is the responsibility of these boards to protect patients from the dangerous ones.”

The legislation comes as a response to evidence that a former Board of Medicine chairman dismissed serious allegations against a Muskegon abortion provider without investigation and without disclosing their prior relationship.

“The facts in the Muskegon case are appalling,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “They clearly show that the Board of Medicine failed in its responsibility to that patient. This legislation will make their actions more transparent and will hold them accountable to the people they serve.”

Senate Bill 575, sponsored by Schuitmaker, requires a minimum of three board members to review every allegation brought to the boards. Currently, a board chairperson has the power to make decisions without consulting other members. It further prohibits the currently permissible practice of board members testifying as paid expert witnesses in malpractice suits over allegations that may later come before their board for investigation. 

“One person should not have the ability to dismiss complaints singlehandedly, especially if a conflict of interest exists. That kind of power invites corruption and severely diminishes a board's effectiveness,” Jones said. 

SB 576 (Schuitmaker) requires board members to disclose any conflict of interest that might exist between them and the health care providers they are investigating, and SB 577, sponsored by Jones, automatically revokes a health professional’s license if they are found guilty of criminal sexual conduct against a patient while acting in their capacity as a health professional.

“When I served as a public member on the Board of Medicine, we focused on getting bad doctors off the streets, not sweeping their misconduct under the rug,” Schuitmaker said. “Hopefully this legislation will restore some of the trust that has been lost as a result of recent failures.”

In 2009, allegations were brought against Dr. Robert Alexander by another doctor who treated one of Alexander’s patients. Dr. George Shade, who was the chairman of the Board of Medicine at the time, singlehandedly dismissed the allegations without investigating. In 2012, Alexander’s clinic in Muskegon was shut down for multiple health and safety violations. 

Further information showed that Alexander lost his license and served time in prison in the 1980s and 1990s.  When he applied to have his license reinstated, Shade served as Alexander’s mentor.

Earlier this year the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Jones, held a hearing on the Alexander situation and on conflicts of interest on the boards of health professions.

The bills have been referred to the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee.