Health Scare

Employee complaints prompt investigation of ASU health center

Arizona State University's Student Health and Wellness Center is in turmoil, as officials await the results of a six-month independent investigation into allegations that the university's head sports doctor has misdiagnosed student athletes.

But parents are worried that the investigation will only uncover the beginning of what has gone wrong with the medical care of their children.

The investigation, which is set to be released by the end of the month by the Phoenix law firm of Sanders & Parks, will likely address myriad concerns ranging from a potentially faulty x-ray machine to employee harassment to overbilling, according to interviews with some complainants and the formal complaint itself, a copy of which was obtained by New Times.

The five employees, including x-ray technician Bill Collins, allege that Steve Erickson, ASU's head athletic team physician, misdiagnosed student athletes whose real ailments ranged from fractures to Hodgkin's disease. And that Erickson allegedly:

• Used a portable x-ray machine in need of maintenance on at least a dozen student athletes.

• Sent student athletes to a Scottsdale pharmacy to have prescriptions filled exclusively by that pharmacy in exchange for a $10,000 donation to ASU's Intercollegiate Athletics Department.

• Overbilled student athletes.

Further, the employees complain that Mary Rimsza, director of the Student Health Center (sister of former Phoenix mayor Skip, she left her position as CEO of MedPro, Maricopa County Hospital's private contractor for patient care, in 1999 to come to ASU) ignored all of their complaints about Erickson, including concerns that he discriminated against employees based on race and sex, which they say they brought to her attention. The complaint also requested that ASU investigate additional charges against Rimsza, including that she created a hostile work environment by harassing and intimidating employees herself.

Parents and current Student Health employees interviewed for this story say that Erickson's mistreatment of student athletes includes current and former members of the ASU basketball team and football team.

None of the players mentioned by parents and employees returned calls and e-mails from New Times.

Aside from Collins, none of the current Student Health Center employees interviewed were willing to go on the record, for fear of losing their jobs. Rimsza referred requests for information to ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff, who declined comment, saying she is not familiar with the accusations.

Erickson offered a terse response to New Times' request for an interview, saying only, "It's none of your paper's business. You can talk to my attorney," but then refusing to provide his attorney's name.

Juan Gonzalez, ASU's vice president for student affairs, did confirm the investigation. He says the university has "agreed to facilitate and encourage full participation in this investigation."

He adds that once the report is submitted, "there's going to be a continuing need to protect individuals and to protect personnel policy. But I will say that legal counsel, administration, the institution takes this very seriously, enough for an independent investigation."

The formal complaint, submitted to ASU's Office of General Counsel on December 2, 2003, also criticizes Rimsza, under a category labeled "Ethics."

"Dr. Rimsza's excessive outside commitments offset her daily interaction with staff, management and patients of Student Health," according to the complaint. "It is difficult to deal with a director who is never here or available. We never know when she will make an appearance. Dr. Rimsza continues [to] allow favored personnel to take non-charged time off, whereas providers, nurses and other medical personnel are required to come in outside of work hours for student health.

"Dr. Rimsza makes political statements to staff at student health meetings, and indicated that she will review our private employee United Way contributions. She regularly parks in the student health parking lot, but has ordered citations/towing if other staff park there."

The complaint also alleges that Rimsza has mishandled issues involving nursing and the health center's medical library. And the complaint accuses Rimsza of failing "to find a very large and obvious tumors [sic] on a patients [sic] uterus and told the patient that her tumors had gone away and she was fine, she changed the birth control for one patient who ended up getting pregnant, a patient with gonorrhea who Dr. Rimsza and her student resident attended to was treated with a drug that is ineffective for the treatment of gonorrhea."

In May 2002, 15 Student Health providers met with ASU's then-vice president of student affairs Christine Wilkinson (now ASU's senior vice president) and her assistant, Jim Rund, the complainants say. One of the employees who helped launch the current investigation says Wilkinson and Rund told Student Health employees at the time that "no action could be taken because the university was in a transition period between [former ASU president] Lattie Coor and [current president] Michael Crow."

And so, the employee adds, "they didn't do squat."

But Rund says that's untrue. "We never would have said that. That's not something either of us said," says Rund, now ASU's vice president of undergraduate admissions. "We gathered follow-up information and we charted a course of action." Rund declined to specify those actions, adding that personnel recommendations are confidential.

Two years later, some Student Health employees still have issues. Five current staff members submitted the formal complaint. Since then, senior radiology technician Bill Collins, and the four other employees who requested anonymity from New Times, have been under the protection of the Arizona Board of Regents' "whistle-blowing" policy, which states that "university representatives may not take any retaliatory action against an employee . . . because they reported concerns."

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