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
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.