INDIANAPOLIS – Dr. William Hedrick of Fort Wayne will have to defend his pain medicine practices during a full disciplinary hearing after the failure Thursday of an attempt to resolve the case with a two-year suspension and restrictive four-year probation period.
Hedrick had reached a proposed settlement with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office on three counts, but after a frank discussion, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board rejected the agreement. Members of the panel expressed concern that they didn’t have specific information regarding allegations against the pain doctor and his possible involvement in seven patient deaths.
Hedrick is accused of incompetence and recklessly prescribing pain medications.
What is uncomfortable is we don’t have the underlying facts, board Chairman Stephen Huddleston said.
He said there have been similar cases with long suspensions but they have involved the board’s making the decision on such sanctions after hearing all the evidence.
Board member Bharat Barai said fully litigating the case might provide lessons for pain centers in the future.
Do we want to know the magnitude of the problem? he said.
The worst punishment the board can issue is a license revocation, which lasts for seven years and is relatively rare.
Neither Hedrick nor his attorney would comment after the hearing.
The attorney general filed a complaint against Hedrick in December, and the doctor agreed to an emergency suspension of his license pending Thursday’s hearing.
That suspension continues as both sides prepare for a full disciplinary hearing in February.
Hedrick is founder and president of the Centers for Pain Relief, which is based in Fort Wayne but has more than a dozen other locations in northern Indiana. In the past few months, multiple lawsuits have been filed against him, and a number of patients have come forward claiming he got them addicted to controlled substances.
Deputy Attorney General Jessica Krug told the board Thursday she was prepared to present evidence related to seven patient deaths but gave no further details.
Hedrick’s attorney, Stacy Cook, said her client will contest issues regarding the deaths.
Krug also said between January 2010 and the fall of 2012 Hedrick’s company billed more than $100 million in charges.
The six-count complaint accuses Hedrick of:
Treating chronic, non-cancer pain with opiate drugs without sufficient education, training or experience, causing negative effects in his patients.
Recklessly prescribing highly addictive pain medications for nonmedical purposes.
Overusing steroid injections beyond what is medically acceptable.
Operating a pain clinic that operates outside the bounds of legitimate medicine.
Failing to apply current theories of appropriate pain management to treat patients.
Failing to adequately supervise advance practice nurses and physicians’ assistants with whom he was required to collaborate and monitor for patient care and safety.
The proposed settlement would have suspended Hedrick’s license for at least two years, at which point he would have to petition the board for reinstatement and prove he was fit to practice again.
If the board agreed, he would have been placed on a restrictive four-year probation with regular visits with the panel, a prohibition against writing controlled substance prescriptions and a person monitoring his medical charts.
We think this is pretty significant that for two years he won’t be practicing at all and for an additional four years he won’t be able to prescribe controlled substances, Cook said. Dr. Hedrick hopes to work very hard in the next six, seven, 10 years to gain your trust again.
Hedrick also would have had to relinquish control of his practice because anyone with a suspended license is not allowed to be a shareholder or owner in a professional corporation.
Gabrielle Owens, deputy director of the attorney general’s Licensing Enforcement and Homeowner Protection Unit, said her office believed the settlement was in the best interest of the citizens of the state. Now her office will be ready for the hearing in February, she said.
Owens acknowledged that the members wanted more information on the deaths before accepting the deal.