Senate committee hears testimony on legislation to protect patients and increase transparency in oversight boards

For Immediate Release:
Oct. 23, 2013

Contact: Arika Sinnott

Sen. Schuitmaker’s Office:  517-373-0793                

Contact:  Sen. Rick Jones
517-410-9495 
      
Senate committee hears testimony on legislation to protect patients and increase transparency in oversight boards

LANSING, Mich.—The Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee Wednesday heard testimony on legislation to better protect patients by increasing oversight and transparency at the state’s boards of health professions.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced the measure 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.

Sen. Jones testified about the background of this case, and given the serious nature of the allegations told the committee, “This is some of the most important legislation you will work on this year. This is very important to protect the safety and welfare of the people of Michigan.”

During her testimony, Sen. Schuitmaker read the complaint that was originally filed with the Board of Medicine by a hospital physician alleging gross negligence on the part Dr. Alexander.

“The description of what happened to this patient and another patient is absolutely appalling,” Schuitmaker said. “Dr. Alexander endangered their lives.” 

The Michigan Osteopathic Association, Right to Life and the Michigan Catholic Conference all expressed their support for the goals of the legislation. The Michigan State Medical Society expressed their support for the work being done, and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which houses the Board of Medicine and Bureau of Health Professions, was neutral on the bills.

“The facts of this case and the response of the Board of Medicine really call into question some of the practices currently taking place at these oversight boards. When board members are putting personal gain before public safety, that's a problem,” Jones added.

“These are common sense changes we are making,” said Schuitmaker. “It’s not unreasonable to ask board members to recuse themselves when conflicts of interest exist, or to require more than one member to make a determination about whether an allegation should be investigated.”

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.

Senate Bill 576 requires board members to disclose any conflict of interest that might exist between them and the health care providers they are investigating.

Senate Bill 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 Senate Bill 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. Dr. George Shade, chairman of the Board of Medicine at the time, 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, Dr. Shade served as Alexander's mentor.

 

Senate signs off on Jones legislation to curb Bridge Card abuse

LANSING—The Michigan Senate on Thursday approved apackage of legislation aimed at curbing Bridge Card abuse in Michigan.

Last year, Jones sponsored legislation that banned cash withdrawals from Bridge Cards in casinos. Earlier this year, Jones was alerted that Bridge Cards were being used in gentleman’s clubs and liquor store and he introduced legislation to stop this practice.

The six bill package will prohibit cash withdrawals at horse racing tracks and place a provision on a liquor store’s liquor license to prohibit the use of a Bridge Card at the point of sale. Under this change a liquor license would be revoked if a liquor store does not comply with the policy. A liquor store is defined as a store that generates 50 percent or more of its sales from alcohol. Bridge Cards will still be accepted the grocery stores.

“This is common sense legislation. Bridge Cards should be temporary and should only be used to buy basic necessities,”said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “I don’t care who you are, lap dances, liquor and trips to the race track are not necessities.”

A bill passed last year by the federal government says that states must comply with new guidelines in order to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grants, including preventing assistance provided under the state program from being used in any EBT transaction in liquor stores, gaming establishments or any retail establishment that provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe.

If no change is made, a penalty equal to up to 5 percent of the block grants will be deducted beginning in 2014, which could amount to roughly $40 million in funding losses for the state.

“You are always going to have groups of people who figure out a way to cheat the system,” Jones said. “However, this legislation, paired with past bills I have sponsored, will make it harder.

“I would also like to thank state Representative Margret O’Brien of Portage and Representative Dale Zorn of Ida for all of their hard work on this issue. The hardworking taxpayers in Michigan do not deserve to have their money wasted.”

 

Animal abusers become people abusers

LANSING— Legislation that would allow non-profit organizations that facilitate the adoption of pets to perform criminal history background checks on potential owners was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, said sponsor Sen. Rick Jones. 

“We were all shocked when we heard a local medical student was found to be adopting Greyhound dogs to abuse and to kill them,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Abuse of animals by sick people does not always stop there.

“From my law enforcement experience I can tell you that some people start with animals and eventually turn to people. Some even turn into infamous serial killers. Historically two widely reported cases were Jeffrey Dahmer and Henry Lee Lucas. Both started as animal abusers.”

Jones has been working with a bipartisan team of legislators to come up with ways to prevent easy adoption of dogs and cats at shelters by convicted abusers. Originally, the group wanted to create an animal abuse registry similar to the sex offender registry. However, it was decided that could be costly and difficult to start up. 

After doing more research with the Michigan State Police, Jones now has legislation in the works to solve the problem. Non-profit organizations that adopt out pets will have free access to the Internet Criminal History Access Tool. This will allow them to see the criminal history of animal abusers and stop an adoption before it is too late.

 

“It is important that we catch animal abusers and get them psychological treatment. It is also important that repeat offenders don’t have an easy source of new victims,” added Jones.

 

The four bill package containing Senate Bills 378,386,603 and 604 now advances to full Senate for further consideration. 

Last call for alcohol: 4 a.m.?

LANSING—Recently, legislation was introduced in the Michigan Senate that would allow some bars and night clubs to stay open until 4:30 a.m.

Senate Bill 247 would move back “last call for alcohol” by two hours to 4 a.m. for bars or night clubs that bought a special license.

“Getting behind the wheel after you have had too much to drink is never the right choice,” said Sen. Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Unfortunately, in 2011 nearly 30,000 people decided to do just that.

This led to 255 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, according to data from the Century Council.

Those in favor of the legislation contend that the late closing time would generate more revenue due to increased licensing fees and additional sales. Jones said he could not disagree more.

“My reaction was that no matter how high the fee is to keep bars open until 4:30 a.m. it is not enough,” said Jones.   “The additional problems, calls for service, and police time are not worth a little more profit for a few.  If the last call for alcohol is 4 a.m. patrons will start driving at 4:30­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ — right when early morning workers head into work.”

Jones said the casinos and the big clubs in Detroit are clamoring for the legislation because they think they can compete with Chicago.

“The Michigan Municipal League asked for even higher fees.  I asked how high?” said Jones. “Their response was: We are not sure yet but we want more money. “If this is done for Detroit then how long before every bar wants it and demands that the fees go down.  This is the ‘camel’s nose under the tent.’ Last Call at 4 a.m. is poor policy, and I will vote NO on SB 247.”

SB 247 is in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee. 

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

For Immediate Release
Oct. 2, 2013

Contact:
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.