Senate approves legislation to protect patients and increase transparency at oversight boards

For Immediate Release
Nov. 7, 2013

Contact: Arika Sinnott, Sen. Schuitmaker's Office: 

Contact:  Sen. Rick Jones
LANSING, Mich.—The Michigan Senate passed legislation Thursday to better protect patients by increasing oversight and transparency at the state’s boards of health professions.  All four bills in the package passed unanimously. 

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced the legislation as a response to evidence that a former Board of Medicine chairman dismissed serious allegations against a Muskegon abortion provider, Dr. Robert Alexander, without investigation and without disclosing their prior relationship.

“Today is a major milestone and I am grateful to my colleagues for their commitment to patient safety,” said Schuitmaker. “Michigan’s residents are one step closer to knowing that when they go into the doctor’s office, those doctors are practicing safe medicine.”

Senate Bill 575 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 the board to investigate.

“The more I learned about what went on in some of these doctors’ offices and at the Board of Medicine, the more I realized how necessary this legislation was,” said Jones. “Patient’s lives were put in danger and no one was held accountable. That is unacceptable.” 

SB 576 requires board members to disclose any conflict of interest that might exist between them and the health care providers they are investigating. SB 577 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, and SB 578 makes revisions to the law governing decisions of disciplinary subcommittees.

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

Further information showed that Dr. 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.