Unidentified doctor who poses ‘high risk’ to the public continues to practice

By: - July 2, 2021 2:07 pm

The secrecy surrounding a state licensing board’s investigation of a Waterloo surgeon twice accused of incompetence is now the subject of litigation headed for the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo via Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners)

An unidentified emergency room physician who allegedly caused the death of a patient in 2017 has continued to see patients with no restrictions on his license while posing a “high risk” to the public, according to the Iowa Board of Medicine.

The physician, identifying himself only as “Dr. John Doe,” took the Iowa Board of Medicine to court in April, seeking an emergency hearing on his efforts to block the board from proceeding with charges against him alleging professional incompetency. He has denied causing a patient’s death, according to court records.

Court records indicate Doe’s involvement with the licensing board began in 2014, when the board was informed by an insurance company that he had paid a $150,000 malpractice settlement for an alleged failure to diagnose a medical issue. After Doe failed to respond to the board’s inquiries, the board filed a statement of charges against him alleging failure to comply with a board investigation. That case was settled with a confidential letter of warning.

By that time, however, the board had received a complaint from a patient about another alleged instance of failure to diagnose a medical issue. In March 2017, the board was informed of a $50,000 malpractice settlement made to that second patient and six months later, the board ordered Doe to undergo a clinical competency evaluation.

The evaluation took place in April 2018, which resulted in an August 2018 report to the board alleging Doe demonstrated deficiencies in medical knowledge and clinical judgment and reasoning. One year later, the board acted on those findings and filed a public statement of charges against the doctor, alleging professional incompetency.

Three months ago, with the matter still pending, Doe sought dismissal of the case and asked the board to reconsider its actions, alleging a lack of probable cause for issuing a statement of charges.

The board rejected that request, noting that Doe had an opportunity to object to the board’s actions in 2017 and failed to do so. The board said the only issue for it to decide was whether the results of the evaluation supported the conclusion that Doe is professionally incompetent — an issue he could address at a hearing before the board.

Doe’s attorney, Michael Sellers, then took the matter to court, arguing his client “has been an emergency room physician for over 20 years and this board has never received a complaint about him regarding his care or treatment of any patient except for the insurance company decisions to settle cases for their own protection … This board cannot tell this court with a straight face that they somehow claim that they have a basis for suggesting that any actual imminent public interest is at stake.”

Sellers also argued that the board “cannot possibly claim that there is a public interest that overrides the interest of (the doctor) in this case.” In his filings, he stated that the board’s order for a competency evaluation contained false statements suggesting the doctor had caused “the death of a patient.”

Attorneys for the board told the court “the charge in this case is one of professional incompetency. Dr. Doe continues to see patients without any hindrance on his license. The board should be able to hear the case and make findings as quickly as possible about the potential threat Dr. Doe serves to the public of Iowa with his professional incompetency. The safety and welfare of the patients Dr. Doe serves may be in question and that high risk deserves a resolution as quickly as feasible.”

The court denied Doe’s request for an order blocking or delaying a planned board hearing on the incompetency charge.

In the eight weeks since that ruling, it does not appear that the Board of Medicine has taken any public action in a case that matches the circumstances of the Doe case.

Board records and court records indicate the specific allegations against Doe, as well as the timing of board filings, correspond to actions involving the license of one individual: Dr. Andrew O. Obamwonyi, a 57-year-old physician who has practiced in Des Moines and Storm Lake.

Like Doe, Obamwonyi is an emergency room physician who in 2017 was accused by the board of failing to comply with a board investigation, and then, in 2019, was accused of incompetence. Like Doe, Obamwonyi was also sued for malpractice in a case that was settled in 2017.

Sellers and Obamwonyi could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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