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After sanctions, negligent abortion doc transforms into weight-loss pill peddler

After sanctions, negligent abortion doc transforms into weight-loss pill peddler

Picture of William Heisel

Fined by the Nevada medical board and ordered to stop performing abortions, Dr. Algis Martell had a decision to make.

As so many doctors do when they make a mess of their primary specialty, Martell decided to get a makeover.

Soon, he had set up shop at the Doctors Guaranteed Weight Loss Clinic. Maybe Martell couldn't guarantee that you were pregnant or guarantee that he had given you an abortion, but, by gosh, he could guarantee that he would get rid of your excess fat.

But, as he had done with his nurse in his abortion clinic, Martell delegated his medical duties, according to the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners. He left for two weeks and told his medical assistant, Patty Westfall, to keep giving patients prescription drugs and injections "without prior authorization from the Board of Pharmacy."

The board reviewed 41 patient records to see how diligent Westfall and Martell were about performing medical evaluations prior to dispensing drugs. They found that the sections marked "Patient Baseline Information for Evaluating Physician" and "Medical Evaluation and Physician's Orders" were blank.

The board also found that patients had been given phentermine and fenfluramine, the drug combo known as phen-fen that was later banned by the FDA after a series of patient deaths, even though Martell had never examined the patients.

Where was Martell when board investigators showed up at his office?

Westfall told the board that he was on a two-week honeymoon.

The board thought the matter was so serious that it temporarily suspended Martell's license in November 1996 until it could resolve the case. One month later, Martell agreed to surrender his license.

If someone told you a story about a doctor who gave abortions to women who were not pregnant and who told his unlicensed medical assistant to dole out drugs while he was on his honeymoon, you probably wouldn't believe it.

"Wouldn't the medical board have taken his license away for giving fake abortions?" you might ask. Well, that did happen in California. The board there thought that the abortion issues were enough to warrant a license revocation in 1995.

"Wouldn't a doctor just close his office while he was away instead of putting patients in jeopardy?" you might ask.

It does seem hard to believe. As a patient, or a health reporter, you would want to see the records. Unfortunately for the good people of Nevada, those records are difficult to access. Of every state that Antidote checked over the course of the past year, only Nevada had a process so cumbersome that it took months for the records to arrive. After paying the records, I have posted them here as a courtesy.

Most states have records available online. Most of the states that don't have records online at least give the public the option of having the records emailed to them. A few still like to mail records, but they are able to take a credit card and quickly send them out. Nevada does everything by postal mail, which is a shame in 2011. The public deserves better.

View Algis Martell and other doctors on the Doctors Behaving Badly Google map.

Send your comments to askantidote@gmail.com

Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wheisel

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