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Doctors Behaving Badly: Emergency care physician reported for duty drunk

Doctors Behaving Badly: Emergency care physician reported for duty drunk

Picture of William Heisel

Valentine's Day should be a national holiday. Until it is, most of us have to work Feb. 14 every year and tango with our valentines at night.

Pity poor Dr. Amanda Waugh then.

She couldn't even look forward to a nice dinner and a long conversation about the plays of Tony Kushner over chocolate soufflé, because on Valentine's Day in 2009, she was stuck with the night shift at the La Palma Intercommunity Hospital's emergency room south of Los Angeles.

That didn't stop her from enjoying herself.

About 10 minutes before her shift was set to start, a Cypress police officer saw her car weaving in and out of three lanes of traffic. He watched as she nearly crashed into an SUV. When he turned on his lights to pull her over, she slammed her car into the curb.

Waugh failed the field sobriety tests, and her blood alcohol content turned out to be 0.128, well over the legal limit in California or any other state. Waugh was arrested on a DUI charge, booked and released.

Did she go home to sleep it off?

No. She went to the emergency room and worked from 9:30 p.m. until 7 a.m., legally drunk for at least the first half of her shift.

In November 2009, Waugh pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was put on three years of probation and ordered to pay a $215 fine. That same month, the Medical Board of California filed charges against her accusing her of practicing medicine while under the influence of alcohol, excessive use of alcohol and "conviction of a crime substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician and surgeon."

Final question: Why hasn't La Palma done something about Waugh? Antidote called and found out that Waugh still has privileges at the hospital. She missed the SUV and all the other cars in her vicinity when she was wandering drunkenly all over the road. But, while legally intoxicated, she had direct contact with an untold number of patients during her long Valentine's shift. Medicine at its best is precise, and in an ER where people are arriving with broken bones, heart attacks, strokes or other problems much more difficult to diagnose, doctors need to be sharp. La Palma could have acted more than a year ago to prevent Waugh from practicing there.

It might have a perfectly good reason why it has not taken action. Its patients deserve the answer.

Comments

Picture of K Patrick McDonald

William -

I always appreciate your reporting - both style and substance. And I particularly thank you for focusing on an area I happen to believe is in serious need of attention, and that is the phenomenal volume of physician misbehavior in America. I get no joy at all in relating that in my files I have the names of 11,000 convicted doctors, in the last decade alone. And 2,490 were found guilty of serious misbehavior, just in 2009. As a medical professional, I find these numbers sickening.

The reason I include these numbers is because the raging 'health care reform' debate in this country ignores the impact of physician misbehavior. In the most recent U.S. Department of Justice annual report, physician crime and medical fraud cost 1/2 Trillion dollars in taxpayer money, every year, in law enforcement and court expenditures. The lack of conversation by our legislators regarding this issue is, to me, nonfeasance of the highest magnitude. Of course, if peer review, state medical board protocols and hospital administrations worked as they should, we would not be looking to congress to solve any issues of discipline. Alas, health care has brought this calamity on itself.

 

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