Medical Board Accused of Enforcing 'Conspiracy of Silence'

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 8, 2010 12:00 am  

In a 2008 case before the Arkansas Medical Board, Dr. Lonnie Harrison, 59, of Little Rock was apparently denied the return of his license, even on a restricted basis, at least in part because he helped prove a malpractice complaint against another doctor.

"It's an old, old thing that we've talked about for 30 years called the conspiracy of silence," said attorney Morgan "Chip" Welch of North Little Rock, who has handled some medical malpractice cases. "There's a feeling that if you are a physician and you have the gall to testify that another physician committed an error, you should be hounded from the brotherhood."

William Trice, the private attorney who has represented the Medical Board for more than 20 years, said it was Harrison's "very complicated history" - including a conviction for possession of methamphetamine - that swayed a majority of the board against reinstating his license.

Testifying against another doctor wouldn't "remotely be a reason for granting or denying a license," Trice said, although the record presented by Harrison suggests that's exactly what happened.

Here's the story as presented in public documents:

The Medical Board revoked Harrison's license in October 2002 after he entered a provisional plea of guilty in Crawford County Circuit Court to a charge of possession of methamphetamine. Despite the plea, Harrison maintained his innocence, and prosecutors agreed that the conviction would be expunged if he had no violations for the next five years.

Harrison repeatedly tested drug-free over the next five years, and in February 2008 Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell ordered the case expunged and the record sealed.

During the years without a license, Harrison, a cardiologist, claimed he kept current on medical procedures. But he also assisted attorney Bobby McDaniel of Jonesboro in a 2003 malpractice case against Dr. D. Mark McCoy of Rogers and the Cooper Clinic of Fort Smith.

In the malpractice claim, McCoy was accused of performing an unnecessary surgery in 1998 that led to a Fort Smith man having his right leg amputated above the knee. McCoy denied wrongdoing, but a Sebastian County jury returned a verdict in March 2006 against McCoy for $3.5 million, which included $500,000 in punitive damages.

It was the first time punitive damages, or an award made to punish the defendant, were imposed against an Arkansas doctor for his medical care. Even though the Arkansas State Supreme Court upheld the verdict, the Medical Board didn't discipline McCoy.

"Evidently, they did evaluate it and didn't vote charges," Trice said, and he said most malpractices cases reviewed Medical Board don't trigger the "gross negligence standard" needed to discipline or sanction a doctor.

McCoy didn't return a call from Arkansas Business.



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