On The Money: Prison Doctor On Probation Among Highest-Paid State Employees

By Mike Luery

One of California’s highest-paid state employees is a medical doctor now facing disciplinary action.

Dr. Richard M. Tan is a prison doctor making more than $250,000 a year, according to state records. The Medical Board of California filed an accusation against Tan, accusing him of gross negligence.

“He was a case of incompetence,” stated Dan Wood, spokesman for the Medical Board of California.

The Medical Board accused Dr. Tan of repeated negligent acts.

“He did things that would not be considered good medical care,” Wood said.

In 2004, one of Tan’s patients died in the emergency room just three hours after leaving his care, according to the accusation. The Medical Board also criticized Tan for his treatment of two other inmates at Solano Prison in Vacaville and both of them subsequently died. But Tan did not lose his license.

“Well, it took several years for the Medical Board to take any action,” said Nancy Kincaid, spokesperson for California Health Care Services. Kincaid works for the federally appointed medical receiver, Clark Kelso. Kincaid told CBS13 her office placed Dr. Tan under medical review with close supervision back in 2006 – well before the Medical Board ever took action.

“It would be nice if things moved more swiftly,” Kincaid said.

Just last month, the Medical Board placed Dr. Tan on five years probation. He’s prohibited from supervising physician assistants on the job – yet ironically Tan is one of California’s highest paid workers. State records show Tan made $277,697 in 2010 – that’s $104,000 more than what Gov. Brown makes.

“This is absurd,” said Harriet Salarno, the president of Crime Victims United. “This is absolutely absurd.”

Crime victim advocates like Salarno say they’re frustrated with the Medical Board. She wonders why the board can suspend the medical license for Michael Jackson’s doctor (Conrad Murray), but not Dr. Tan.

“They’re supposed to be the watchdogs,” Salarno said.

So why didn’t the Medical Board take tougher action against Dr. Tan?

“They felt that with some retraining and some help, he could again become a viable, practicing doctor,” Wood told CBS13.

So Tan is back working at the prison, where he must be closely monitored for the next three years, while collecting a six-figure paycheck.

CBS13 tried repeatedly to get comments from him for this story, but he did not respond.

Meanwhile, four of the 15 positions on the Medical Board are currently vacant. Critics say that could make it problematic to discipline doctors, since the board needs eight voting member to take action. It’s now up to Brown to fill those four openings.

If you have a story idea that requires a government watchdog, send an e-mail to onthemoney@kovr.com . You can also follow On The Money in progress via Twitter and also on Facebook.

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