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Call Kurtis Investigates: Medical Board Could Be Stripped Of Investigative Power

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Citing years of slow investigations of dangerous doctors, Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) wants the Medical Board of California stripped of its investigative authority, he told CBS13.

Call Kurtis has exposed several cases over the years when the Medical Board — the agency tasked with protecting patients from potentially dangerous doctors — was slow to act and new patients were hurt.

Transferring investigations from the Board to the attorney general’s office would speed up investigations significantly, Price told CBS13.

But the
Medical Board
says not so fast; there are other factors, including money.

More than a year after Amy Rose said her cosmetic surgeon botched a surgery, she still struggles with her hand.

“The medical board wasn’t worried about protecting me from this happening,” she told CBS13.

A Call Kurtis medical investigation that aired in November found several patients, including Rose, who claimed they had been seriously injured by Dr. Efrain Gonzalez of Rocklin’s Advanced Medical Spa.

She said Gonzalez carelessly cut through two critical nerves during a breast augmentation leaving her hand paralyzed.

“He’s changed my life,” Rose said.

And CBS13 uncovered a year before Rose’s procedure, another patient had complained to the Medical Board that Gonzalez botched her operation too.

“Knowing at least one complaint, he should have been shut down, so that something like this couldn’t happen,” Rose said, adding that the state could have saved her.

Investigators arrested Gonzalez in March. The Medical Board then suspended his license — about 18 months after filing an accusation against him.

The Medical Board’s target length of time to discipline a doctor is 540 days (PDF) — roughly a year and a half from when it receives a complaint.

But Call Kurtis learned last year it took on average 10 months longer than the target — time when unsuspecting patients could end up hurt or even killed.

“The body who’s responsible for regulating, for monitoring those activities appears to be asleep at the switch,” Price said.

He co-authored Senate Bill 304 that would, among other things, strip the Medical Board of its investigating power and transfer investigations to the attorney general’s office.

“The idea is to speed these investigations up so that doctors aren’t in limbo (and) the public isn’t in limbo about the status of a medical professional,” he said.

The Medical Board of California granted consumer investigator Kurtis Ming an interview.

“Is there a sense of embarrassment that it’s come to this?” Ming said.

“Our major goal is to protect consumers,” said the Board’s Cassandra Hockenson. “If it is found that by shifting them to the attorney general’s office is a better way to protect consumers, then it’s a better way to protect consumers.”

The Board claims its neutral on Price’s SB 304, but pointed out it would be forced to pay each investigator $13,764 to $15,204 more a year under the attorney general — money that would still come out of the Board’s budget.

The Board also points out changes it has made to speed up investigations.

Records show from October to December 2012, the Medical Board took on average five months less to discipline doctors.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect. It’s not,” said Hockenson, “and we’re nowhere near our goal, and it definitely needs to improve and be better.”

“We’re going as fast as is possible under the system,” she said.

But Rose said it wasn’t fast enough to protect her, now one of at least a dozen Gonzalez patients who have come forward saying he injured them.

“I just want my hand back,” she said.

Currently, the Medical Board does the investigating of doctors, and the attorney general’s office does the prosecuting. They must work hand in hand to quickly prosecute cases.

If either side drags its feet, patients could be put at risk.

The attorney general’s office said the increased costs mentioned by the Medical Board are assumptions at this point.

The Medical Board said these numbers were reviewed by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Office of Information Services.

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