Posted 3/24/2014 12:00 am
Updated 7 months ago
Keith and Natalie Currie, a husband-and-wife chiropractor team in Conway, hope to end their five-year battle with the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners next month.
The Curries, who own and operate Arkansas Spinal Care of Conway, are working with the board’s attorney to settle 13 pending complaints as well as a case that the Arkansas Court of Appeals sent back to the board for more action. The global settlement also will include the board’s fines of $17,500 against Keith Currie and $10,000 against Natalie Currie in December 2011 for failing to comply with seven subpoenas. The Curries appealed the fines, and the case is pending in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
The Curries’ attorney, Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, declined to say what’s being discussed in the settlement. Aaron Sadler, the spokesman for the Arkansas attorney general’s office, which is representing the Chiropractic Board, also declined last week to comment on the case, which is expected to be discussed at the board’s next meeting on April 17.
The Chiropractic Board, which oversees about 500 active Arkansas practitioners, has seen “a high number of complaints” against the Curries over the years, said Rebecca Wright, executive director of the board.
The Curries’ 13 pending complaints — Keith has nine and Natalie has four — account for 20 percent of the 64 pending complaints at the board as of Jan. 30, she said.
Most of the complaints are tied to allegations regarding patient care or billing. Nearly all of the complaints were filed between 2009 and 2011. The Curries didn’t receive any complaints in 2012 and only one in 2013, which came from Nobel Tatum of Edgemont (Cleburne County) and named Arkansas Spinal Care.
Lamoureux said the Curries have in recent years been “more diligent in documenting what they’re doing for patients and how the process works” in an attempt to lower the number of complaints.
Still, “when they take a patient on, they hope to achieve a good result for their patient,” said Lamoureux, who answered questions on behalf of the Curries. “They want to satisfy everybody.”
He said he doesn’t know how many patients the Curries treat a year, but “a lot of patients have been treated very successfully.”
He said in some cases, the patients have been to other doctors or chiropractors without relief and turn to Arkansas Spinal Care almost as a last resort.
That’s what happened in Tatum’s case. Tatum, 81, told Arkansas Business last week that he had already been treated at a pain management clinic in Batesville for six months before he sought a remedy at Arkansas Spinal Care in 2012. He said he had seen ads for the Curries’ clinic on television and in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and thought he could get some relief from his lower back pain.
“I finally found somebody who could help me,” Tatum said he thought at the time. “I signed the papers and wrote the check.”
Tatum said he paid $5,875 for 20 treatments but didn’t receive long-term relief.
“What really frustrates me is I kept telling them every day that [the treatments are] not working,” he said.
Tatum wrote in his complaint that his treatment at the clinic “reminds me of going to buy a new car and a salesman pressuring you to make the sale.”
Neither Keith Currie nor Natalie Currie filed an answer to Tatum’s complaint, according to the file released to Arkansas Business under a Freedom of Information Act request.
But Keith Currie filed a response on May 29, 2011, to another complaint and said he never tells anyone that he can cure them.
“I am very honest about that in all consultations and have lost business because of my blatant honesty,” Currie wrote. “Some people do not begin care in my program because of the fact that I do not offer a guarantee.”
The Curries attended Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Mo. Keith Currie received his chiropractic license in 2003, and they bought a chiropractic clinic in Fairfield Bay, according to court records filed in the case. They opened another clinic in Clinton in 2006.
But in 2007, things started to change for the Curries. Natalie Currie received her license from the Chiropractic Board that year, and they closed the Fairfield Bay and Clinton clinics and opened Arkansas Spinal Care in Conway. Natalie Currie, however, said in responses to one complaint that she never treated patients and her role was office manager at Arkansas Spinal Care.
Arkansas Spinal Care apparently was a success and there was a three- to four-month wait for patients to get an initial appointment, Keith Currie said in a May 2011 response to a complaint filed with the board. But complaints soon followed.
Between August 2009 and September 2010, the board received a total of 41 complaints and 10 of them were against one or both of the Curries.
Other patients, however, were pleased with the service and treatment, according to more than a dozen testimonials posted on Arkansas Spinal Care’s website.
“Not only are their treatments innovative and cutting edge but Arkansas Spinal Care’s employees are pleasant and professional. … My pain is gone and I feel 100% better ... the drive from Little Rock has definitely been worth it!!” said Tracy Douglass, who is still identified as a reporter/anchor for KARK-TV, although she hasn’t worked there since 2011 (according to her LinkedIn profile).
Arkansas Spinal Care’s site doesn’t indicate that Douglass was anything more than a patient who happens to be well-known from her television days, but a testimonial from Keith Currie on Douglass’ personal website, TracyDouglass.com, suggests that she might have been a paid spokeswoman for the clinic.
“If being associated with Tracy will help anyone else’s business the way it’s helped mine, then it would be impossible to go wrong with Tracy Douglass,” he wrote.
Douglass didn’t respond to an email or a phone message as of Thursday morning.
Ruling and Appeal
On Dec. 7, 2010, the Chiropractic Board, after several delays, held the first hearing to deal with six patient complaints involving the Curries.
The hearing took up three days and was spread over several weeks. The board heard from patients who had trouble getting their medical records after requests were made. Another patient complained that she had very little contact with chiropractors at the clinic after the initial assessment.
The board found wrongdoing in four of the six patient complaints. The board ruled that the Curries were guilty of eight violations of the board’s regulations. Six of the violations were tied to actions likely to “deceive, defraud or harm the public,” said the board’s five-page order on Feb. 15, 2011. The other two violations were for “negligent or reckless practice, or intentional misapplication of practice, regardless of the degree of injury to the patient.”
The board fined the Curries $3,000 per violation for a total of $24,000 and placed them on probation for two years.
The Curries quickly appealed the ruling to Faulkner County Circuit Court on several grounds, including that the board’s decision wasn’t supported by the evidence and its finding was “arbitrary, capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion,” according to the appeal by the Curries’ attorney at the time, Colin Johnson of Fayetteville.
Faulkner County Circuit Judge Rhonda Wood agreed with the Curries and tossed the board’s order out in November 2012.
Wood found that the board’s order wasn’t clear as to which chiropractor was to blame for the violation.
“Simply put, there is not finding of fact as to which doctor was responsible for the patient’s care, administrative responses to patients’ requests for records and documents, or supervision of support staff which appear to be the basis of the conclusions and finding of violations,” Wood wrote in her order, filed Nov. 14, 2012. “Without a finding as to how the individual physician is responsible to a particular patient, there cannot be a finding of unprofessional conduct.”
The Curries’ court victory was short lived, though. The Chiropractic Board appealed Wood’s decision to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
In October 2013, Court of Appeals Judge Brandon Harrison concurred with the Curries that the board’s order didn’t identify which chiropractor was responsible for conduct that led to the fine.
“Without the required factual findings, we are left with a difficult, if not impossible, task in determining whether the administrative decision was correct,” Harrison wrote in his Oct. 30 opinion.
Harrison sent the case back to the board to further explain its decision. The Court of Appeals also ordered that the Curries pay the Chiropractic Board $5,207.50 for the cost of the appeal.
Meanwhile, as that case was making its way through the courts, other complaints against the Curries were pilling up again at the Chiropractic Board.
Not all of the complaints were for issues that had recently occurred. Three of the patient complaints filed with the board on Feb. 2, 2011, first had been filed with the state attorney general’s office — back in 2008 and 2009.
The Curries in their responses to the complaints took issue with the Chiropractic Board filing the complaints because the allegations were so old. In addition, they felt the board’s investigating officer, Terry Barnett, was out to get them.
“I also find it extremely contradictory that the Investigating Officer told me in previous administrative matters that he is coming after my license,” Keith Currie wrote in a response to a complaint in May 2011. “How can this man be the ‘fact finder’ for the board when he has clearly shown contempt and aggression towards my practice?”
Wright, the executive director of the Chiropractic Board, said she didn’t know what caused the delay in getting the complaints from the AG’s office to the Chiropractic Board.
“It is our procedure that when we receive a complaint from another agency, we follow up with a complaint from our agency,” Wright said.
Sadler, the spokesman for the AG’s office, said in an email to Arkansas Business that one of the three complaints was submitted to the Chiropractic Board on Feb. 2, 2009 — exactly two years before the board said it received the complaint.
As for the other two complaints, which were also received at the board on Feb. 2, 2011, “no one who was involved in handling these complaints is still employed by our office,” Sadler wrote.
Those two complaints were related to billing and medical records questions. “We would not typically send those complaints to the board,” he wrote.
Wright said Barnett had the authority to investigate the Curries, who are under the board’s jurisdiction.
Still, Keith Currie saw Barnett’s actions as bullying and unjust.
“We are honest people who provide outstanding service to the community and I will not sit by and watch a group of people (who do not understand my practice) condemn me without a fight,” Keith Currie wrote in his response in May 2011.
Natalie Currie also complained that she was just the office manager and had never been a treating physician for any patients at the office.
“How can the ASBCE find it necessary or just to question my licensure on managerial concerns of any nature?” Natalie Currie wrote in a letter that the board received on June 20, 2011. “I am not practicing as a chiropractor.”
As part of the investigation into the patients’ complaints, the board, with the patients’ consent, issues subpoenas for the patients’ medical record.
But when Barnett tried to get the patients’ records, the Curries wouldn’t hand them over for several months in 2011, according to the board’s files.
On Dec. 11, 2011, the board found the Curries guilty of unprofessional conduct for failing to comply with the board-issued subpoenas and fined them $2,500 for each subpoena ignored. Natalie Currie had four subpoenas and Keith Currie had seven.
The Curries have appealed the ruling.
Keith Currie said in his May 2011 response to the board that he had done “an exceptional job” because of the tens of thousands of people with whom he’s come in contact there have been only a small number of complaints.
“My clinic has helped over a couple of thousand people get their quality of life back,” he wrote.